They went up Calabria along the coastal road. Delegates from many villages in the surrounding areas were coming to see the victorious General, whose news had already spread like lightning, to tell him the population's will to participate in the referendum, and to request him to send his representatives. Even though this slowed down his march a little, Garibaldi met with all the delegations and tried to content everybody by sending his representatives to all the major villages and towns, and governors to the district capitals.
Enzo continued to avoid Ruggiero, and the man contented himself with just looking at him from afar. He didn't want to bother him. He didn't want to alienate him more than he had already done. One night, they were sleeping in the same room with eight others in an ex-barrack of the Bourbons, and Ruggiero found out he had to sleep at Enzo's side, who had Alduzzo on his other side. Ruggiero could touch him if he just stretched out his arm, but he didn't dare to do that, fearing Enzo's reaction. But he looked at him, and felt he desired him intensely. Enzo was lying on his back. When he turned to his side, their eyes met. Notwithstanding the almost complete darkness, they could see each other. Ruggiero half closed his eyes, unable to sustain the cold glance of the boy. He didn't close them completely. He still wanted to look at him, but he hoped that the boy thought he had closed them.
He saw Enzo pushing backwards and lightly moving his pelvis in an unequivocal way. After a while, he saw him opening his trousers and lowering them to his thighs, he saw Alduzzo's arm girdling Enzo's body and the boy starting to push back in rhythm -- he was making his friend penetrate him under Ruggiero's eyes. He did that on purpose. Ruggiero felt sick in his stomach, closed his eyes, overtaken by a sharp pain, but then forced himself to open them again. He saw Alduzzo's hand moving to caress the turgid genitals of Enzo and the boy's face filled with pleasure. He watched it all, in a silence broken only by the light snoring of their other companions and by the rustle of their bodies moving in their sleep, feeling a sharp pain in his heart, his throat tight and dry.
Enzo closed his eyes and had an expression of enjoyment. Ruggiero had a feeling of growing pain. If he hadn't done what he did, he would have been in the place of the other boy right now. His boy in the arms of another... right there in front of his eyes -- he thought that this was the harshest punishment Enzo could inflict on him. He knew he deserved it, but...
The boy's heavier breathing, his more uncoordinated movements, his mouth opening in a silent moan, made Ruggiero understand that Enzo was reaching his orgasm... and it was not him who gave it to the boy! The pain in his body became sharper, two tears ran down his cheeks, but Ruggiero forced himself to look at the boy's face, seized by pleasure, his genitals unloading on the wide pallet, his body shivering. And inside himself a voice screamed, "I love you, Enzo... forgive me... come back to me!"
He saw the boy slowly relaxing, tidied up his clothes, turned towards his friend who had just enjoyed inside him, and embraced him. Then Ruggiero stretched out his hand to brush the wet pallet, his fingers lingered in the still warm seed. He took it to his face and inhaled the perfume he knew so well. He savored its taste and silent but abundant tears flew down freely.
On the following morning, while they were waking up, their eyes met. Those of Ruggiero were filled with a silent pain; those of Enzo were seemingly indifferent. In reality the boy now felt a slight remorse having forced his ex-lover to watch what happed the night before. He could feel the intensity of the pain in the young man's eyes, and this didn't give him pleasure. Enzo was not evil, and deep inside his heart, even if he did not want to admit it, he still loved Ruggiero. But he still felt deeply wounded by the betrayal of the young man. Ruggiero left the dormitory, with a generic greeting to everybody, and went to the liaison officer for his work.
A few days after this happened, while the Garibaldians were getting closer to Catanzaro, they were informed that the Bourbons' troops there had reorganized and were ready to put up a fierce resistance. The Garibaldians stopped while their general was listening to the reports from the scouting party and local people who came to warn them. They were preparing their weapons for the imminent clash. Soon orders started to come and the small, but compact and determined army moved quickly towards the city. Ruggiero had joined the Sicilians group again and was marching at a close distance from Enzo, with his gun in the firing position. They were separated only by another Sicilian, a young man from Milazzo whose name was Saro. He was strong like a young bull, and advanced with a merry smile as if he was following a wedding procession. Alduzzo was on his other side.
Even though this was not their first battle, Ruggiero advanced tensely, not for himself, but for his Enzo. From what he had heard, he knew that this clash was going to be tougher then the previous ones. It seemed that the Bourbon soldiers still faithful to their king had gathered in Catanzaro from all over Calabria. It was also said they had many cannons. The hope was that Catanzaro's citizens would rebel at the right moment, so that the enemies would find themselves caught between two fires.
Garibaldi divided his forces into two groups. While the less numerous group was advancing at a normal pace, the other, consisting of his youngest men, and also Sicilians and Calabrians, advanced along a road halfway up the hill in order to turn around and attack the Bourbons on their side. The Garibaldians of the second group were marching in small groups, fast and silent, among the trees covering the narrow road.
They past over Aprigliano, a small village in which all the houses were shut, and nobody was on the streets. It almost seemed like a dead village if it was not for a liner of clothes hanging to dry on a terrace. The small group of Catanzaro men that lead the way, all trustworthy patriots, at a certain point took to the left, leaving the road. From there, they caught a glimpse of Catanzaro below them. Then the first volunteers saw the enemy soldiers. The compact line that was advancing fast downwards, was swept by a murmur, all the way to the men in the rear who could not yet see the enemies -- "The Bourbons, the Bourbons, the Bourbons..."
The guns were already loaded and ready, but the men all held them with increasing determination. Ruggiero managed to always remain beside Enzo, even though he never moved to his side. Now they were separated by Tonio from Cefalu, a dark, dark fisherman, twenty-two years old, with penetrating eyes like sharp knife blades, and a mane of tiny black curly hair that made him look like a Tunisian. They were all running down in perfect silence, but the sound of hundreds of feet beating on the hard ground seemed like they could be heard from far away. Ruggiero was asking himself whether that powerful drumming would alarm the enemy troops, who were seemingly proceeding to the coastal road. From there, they also saw their General proceeding on his horse, shining like a hero in a fairy tale, like a vindicator angel, surrounded and followed by the swarm of red shirts.
That red sea of troops was a scene that made one think of a fire column ready to spread out and to purify everything. Ruggiero felt slightly elated and excited. They were a river of fire too, going down the hill unstoppably. Then, at the back of the enemy troops, he noticed a black sea of people coming out from the city. And the battle burst out. After the first volley of fusillade that apparently didn't inflict any damage, possibly fired too in advance from both parties, a fierce and ferocious close combat started.
The surprise attack had some success. The enemy troops were struggling more to save their lives than to stop the strangers. Their officers' orders seemed to be thrown in the wind, yelled more to respect that cruel game that was called war, than for any real purpose -- nobody seemed to care about them. Everybody was shouting at full voice, the confusion was indescribable. Some shouted to give themselves courage, some to frighten the enemy, others because they were dying, others to find the force to kill, some because were they terrorized, and some for a kind of savage exultance, or possibly just to be sure they were still alive, or just because everybody was yelling and they felt compelled to follow suit.
Ruggiero also was shouting. In the fray, he tried to never lose sight of Enzo. He saw a Bourbon with a bayonet through him with widened eyes, astounded that Enzo, a boy who could be the age of his son, could pierce it so easily through his bowels. Then Ruggiero saw another Bourbon aiming his gun at Enzo behind his back. He yelled the name of his beloved and hurled himself. He saw Enzo turning with surprised eyes, slightly widened but not afraid. Then he felt like a violent hand had pushed him on his back, and he threw him forward towards Enzo. Then he felt a piercing pain in his leg, as if an incandescent iron was sinking in it. He felt his breath escaping from him, deserting him, an intense heat all over his body, and the freezing ice of death at his forehead. He struggled not to close his eyes, felt his body heavy, terribly heavy, managed to murmur once again his beloved boy's name, tiredly raised an arm toward the sky that was of a blindingly clear blue, almost in a silent, desperate invocation, and sank into unconsciousness.
Enzo saw him collapsing. He charged with his bayonet, shouting, towards the soldier who shot Ruggiero and pierced him like a thrush. Meanwhile Alduzzo charged at the soldier who shot Ruggiero's leg. Soon the battle came to an end. The Bourbons, seeing they were attacked on three fronts, overwhelmed, started to flee away or to surrender. The cannons didn't rumble. Later, it was known that somebody had dampened the gunpowder, so that the fuses had died off, without succeeding in firing a single shot. This also contributed to demoralize the Bourbon soldiers.
Ruggiero, with other wounded men of both sides, was put on improvised litters, and the procession of victorious red shirts, wounded men, prisoners, and rebelled Catanzaro citizens, triumphantly entered the city, while a festive Catanzaro welcomed them. The people faithful to the Bourbons had shut themselves in their houses. The church bells were in full peal. People from any social standing were lined up on the streets to cheer the red procession.
The wounded Bourbons were gathered in one church, the Garibaldians in another, while Enrico and the nurses from the rearguard were running to take care of them. Enzo and Alduzzo were at Ruggiero's side. The young man was pale like the Easter candle. He had lost too much blood from both of his wounds before they managed to bandage him to stop his hemorrhage. A Catanzaro's volunteer doctor arrived at once and saw him. The wound on his torso was not lethal, even though one of the lungs was injured, but the bullet came out from the other side, and that was good. The bullet that wounded his leg was still inside. It needed to be extracted. So the surgery was prepared. Enzo was pale and trembling. Alduzzo was at his side, thinking that possibly who really needed him right now was Enzo rather than Ruggiero.
When the doctor ended the surgery, he said that the shot had cracked his fibula, luckily without breaking it. He said that unless a septicemia was developed, Ruggiero was not in any serious danger, but it would take some months for him to completely recover.
When they were alone, Alduzzo said to Enzo in a plain voice, "It's you who needs to be at Ruggiero's side, now."
"Yes, I know..." the boy answered pensively, sitting on the floor near the blanket where Ruggiero was lying. Then he said to Alduzzo, "I want to remain here. Can you go to look for a bed, a pallet, something for him?"
"They are gathering them for all the wounded, but I will go," his friend answered.
Enzo looked at the lifeless face of Ruggiero. On that day, Enzo killed someone for the first time. That was a consciously killing, not simply firing at the crowd. When you shoot along with others at a crowd, you can always think that someone else hit the people who got killed... but not when you sink your bayonet in a body, and see the other looking at you as if asking "Why?" That glance will remain in your head and you can't wash it away. It had been different when he killed the man who shot Ruggiero. With that one, he had a personal account to square. But the others... And also, there was still the risk that Ruggiero would die. Septicemia, the doctor said. He explained to him it was like an infection. But an infection would pass, Enzo knew that. Yet that word instead frightened him.
Ruggiero was risking his life in order to save him. He threw himself in front of the bullet. He had warned him, calling his name with such a loud voice, so heartbroken, that must have reached the sky. And he saw his intense, luminous eyes yelling... I love you! Yes, Enzo certainly knew the meaning of that glance -- I love you so much to be ready to give up my life for you. And in that last glance there was also a tormented prayer -- forgive me!
Enzo felt scorching tears flowing down his cheeks. One, a hundred, a thousand infidelities could not compare to the weight, the intensity and the truth of that glance. And the love that the boy had stubbornly confined in his heart, to the borders of his soul, surfaced again. He looked at that half-naked body, with the white bandages on his chest and on his right leg, and felt he loved it, he loved him intensely. And from his heart sprout out a passionate prayer, "Saint Cosimus and Damianus, who are the witnesses of our love, please don't let him die. I will belong to him forever, I swear, but please don't let him die. He had hurt me. I had hurt him. Now that's enough. Rescue him, I beg you!"
While he was repeating this silent prayer again and again, Enzo was twisting his hands. Yes, it was him who should be the one lying there, bandaged, bloodless -- he, and his pride. And he recalled when he had sex with Alduzzo under Ruggiero's eyes, to sully him, to punish him, because he knew that he would hurt him deeply... and he felt terribly ashamed, he felt he had been mean. He gave himself to another under his eyes, but Ruggiero, as an answer, took the two shots from the enemy that were aimed at Enzo on himself, in his place. Yes, Ruggiero slept with Manfredo, but was in love with him -- he was sincere when he said these words, and now he had dramatically proved their truth. If he believed him at once, now they would be together, safe, in Sicily, and happy.
Enzo lightly brushed the inert hand of Ruggiero, and brushed his ring with the small leaves in relief. If he were not afraid that he might hurt him, he would have thrown himself on that body, and embraced it, and would beg him for forgiveness. And he would tell him he was still in love with him, in front of everybody. He would have said to him he wanted to belong to him only, and he could have all the adventures he wanted, if he just accepted him at his side. He would never be jealous again. And amidst his tears he desperately whispered, "Live, Ruggiero, please. Remain alive!"
Alduzzo came back with a pillow and a bed sheet, "They are taking the beds here. We can anyway settle for these. I also brought you something to eat." Then he saw Enzo's tears. He shook his head in a gentle reproach, "It is no use to cry, now. You'll see that he will manage to come out of this. The doctor said that he doesn't have any mortal wound."
"But what about septimessy?" the boy asked, mangling that difficult, menacing word.
"They just have to carefully disinfect him, the doctor says, and so he will not get it. It seems that there are plenty of medicine. Sure thing is, I think, he couldn't fight any more, at least for a long while. He has to remain here, in Catanzaro."
"I will stay here too."
"But you signed, you swore..."
"At most they could kill me, and nothing more," Enzo said determinedly.
Alduzzo ruffled his hair in an affectionate gesture, "Before, you didn't even want to see him, and now you don't want to leave him."
"Before, I was just a turd!"
"Oh, you understood that, at last? Well, it didn't take you too long, after all. But you needed almost having him get killed to understand it."
"Why, you understood it, and you didn't tell me?"
"Would you have listened to me?"
"No, you are right. Manfredo also told me, but I didn't believe him."
"And you had to believe him even more than me. Didn't you realize that Ruggiero didn't loose sight of you even a single moment all through the battles? And he always protected your back?"
"I understood it a little too late, didn't I?"
"Well... but now you understand it. Let's just hope they will let you be at his side."
In the afternoon, the liaison officer came to check on Ruggiero's conditions. Enzo gave him the latest news he got from the doctor and told him that he hadn't yet recovered his senses.
The officer asked him, "Are you Ruggiero Rota's friend?"
"No, I am Vincenzo Rota... his brother," the boy answered on impulse.
Alduzzo looked at him, for a moment with a surprised glance, then with an understanding smile.
The officer said, "Ah... you two don't look like each other..."
"He really is his half brother. Ruggiero's father was widowed and married again, and then Enzo was born..." Alduzzo readily said.
"I see. Well, then, he is in good hands. I hope he can recover soon. He was a really valuable help. I will come to see him again," the officer said and went to see other wounded soldiers he knew.
"Thank you, Alduzzo," Enzo murmured.
"Since you told a lie, it was better to make it believable. How did you think of it?"
"Well, as you know, Ruggiero used my family name to enlist, but I was not thinking of that until a short while ago, when the officer said 'Rota', so it come out spontaneously... and then in this way it could probably be easier for them to leave me here with him, without raising any fuss."
"Yes. But now it would be better if you rest a little, wouldn't it? I will remain near him."
"No, I want to be here when he opens his eyes again."
"It could take days. You can't do that. Listen to me, go and have some sleep."
"No, I'll remain here."
"Stubborn like a mule!"
"Like a Sicilian, yes," the boy retorted, smiling sadly.
When Alduzzo went out, he ran into Manfredo, who was coming to visit them after having heard that Ruggiero and another of his friends were wounded.
"Enzo is watching him," the Sicilian boy told him.
"So then... do you think it would be better if I don't go there?"
"No, on the contrary. At least we will see to what point Enzo had realized the truth."
"You mean that... Enzo really forgave Ruggiero?"
"Yes, and now he feels guilty. I think meeting you would do him good. It could also help him to see inside himself somewhat more clear."
Manfredo first went to see his other friend. But Enrico told him that he had just passed away. Manfredo was shocked and admired Enrico, who in spite of the fact that his lover had just died, was continuing to do his utmost for the others. He then looked around for Enzo and Ruggiero. He saw them, the boy was holding a hand of the young man between his hands, and was looking at him with a yearning tenderness.
Manfredo went near them, and when he was at Enzo's back, he asked, "May I stay here with you for a while?"
Enzo raised his head then nodded.
Manfredo asked about the young man's conditions. Then he said, "Let's hope that he can at least recover. But you look exhausted. Why don't you go have a rest?"
"I want to be here when he opens his eyes."
"Yes, you are right. I'll go to fetch you some coffee."
"Eh, thank you."
While Manfredo was out of the church, the first beds offered by the citizens came. Four men raised the lifeless body of Ruggiero and gently put him on the bed. Enzo set the pillow and covered him again with the bed sheet. Then he sat on the floor near the bed, looking at the profile of his man. And he thought he was so very beautiful, even with his bloodless lips and the tense, sharp face. He could see the sheet slightly moving up and down at the rhythm of Ruggiero's breath. He felt a huge desire to caress him, to kiss him. How could he have thought he didn't want to see him any more?
Manfredo came back with a cup full of smoking sweet coffee and handed it to the boy. Then seeing they had already fetched a bed, he went out again to look for a chair. When he came back a little later, he had a chair, and was also carrying a blanket.
"Listen, Enzo, spread this cover and the other one under the bed, lie down and try to get some sleep. You have bags and black circles under your eyes. If Ruggiero wakes up now, he would be scared. I'll just sit here, and I promise I'll wake you up immediately if it just seems that he is recovering his senses. If Ruggiero finds you in a good shape, it will be better, don't you think?"
"Swear you will wake me up."
"Don't you trust me?"
"I probably shouldn't... but... yes, I trust you," Enzo said pensively. He folded both blankets in half, and spread them under the bed. Then he slipped on them and lay down. "You'll wake me up, promise?"
"My word of honor. Sleep without worries, Enzo."
In a couple of minutes, Enzo sank into a deep sleep.