Now Ruggiero no longer needed to use splints for his leg, and he no longer needed to walk with the crutch, but only with a light walking stick. He limped slightly, but he didn't feel any pain. When he went around the city, he was respectfully greeted by everybody, as he was the top authority in those days. All was ready for the referendum -- Garibaldi had installed himself in Naples and the Bourbon king was fleeing by ship. Gaeta, the last fortress, also surrendered.
All provisional governors received printed samples of the referendum's ballot paper from Naples. Ruggiero summoned the best printer in the city and had him print all the needed ballots. Posters could be seen all over the city announcing the date when the future of that region and of the entire former Two Sicilies Kingdom would be determined.
Garibaldi's portraits, more or less resembling him, but unmistakable for his red shirt, his blond beard and long hair, as well as three colors flags and writings extolling to the United Italy, appeared all over the city, giving it a festive atmosphere. The seats for the vote were prepared, and Ruggiero had all of them watched by a provisional police force made up of half former Bourbon's soldiers and half patriots. Youths who could not yet vote marched all over the city, demonstrating their support for the annexation and unification with extemporary slogans, sometimes naive, sometimes amusing.
The referendum day came. People having the right to vote were going to express their opinions between two wings of festive crowds, barely held back by the order service. 94% of those who had the right to vote voted, and among the young people who obtained the right for the first time, 100% of them voted. The absent were mainly old aristocrats who excused themselves with their venerable age.
When the vote was over, the seats were closed and the counting of the votes started. As the ballots were read, the crowd gathered under the seats. They cheered the "yes" and whistled at the few "no". When the counting was over, and the results had been announced to the crowd, all the ballots and the minutes were brought to the provisional governor's mansion under an escort. Here Ruggiero gathered a commission consisted of judges and notaries who had to verify the ballots and the minutes and authenticate the results. Then the results were added to get the final figure. When the entire process that lasted all through the night into the following morning was completed, 97.6% were "yes" votes, 0.9% were "no" votes and spoiled or blank ballot papers made up for 1.5%.
When the results were announced, the crowd flooded the streets, dancing, singing, in a spontaneous feast. When the legal proceedings were over, Ruggiero and Enzo went upstairs to their apartment, exhausted.
"What a overwhelming victory!" Enzo said cheerfully, "And you thought we run the risk to be hanged!"
"Well... evidently those watching the seats wanted the 'yes' to win, and they succeeded."
"But how? You had the papers and the minutes carefully checked!"
"Enzo, it is not to hard to swap the box of ballot papers with an identical one, filled with prepared papers, before opening it and starting the counting."
"Do you think they did so?"
"Enzo, just look at the results, one seat at a time. I would say this happened in a majority of the seats. See, in many seats, there are 100% of 'yes' votes -- I can't believe that is possible. I think that anyway the 'yes' would have won, there is at most 26% of 'no's in the seats where the boxes were not swapped. Anyway... it's not me who made, or ordered these conjuring tricks, and these are just my suspicions without any proof. Judges and notaries authenticated everything. Our task here is over. Now we only have to send the results to Naples and wait for orders."
"And what will we do, afterwards?" Enzo asked. He had been asking himself that question for several days, but Ruggiero was so busy that Enzo didn't want to distract him from his tasks with other worries.
"Afterwards... anything you want, Love. Do you want us to go back to our village?"
"No... we couldn't stay together like here. Here, they believe we are brothers, and you are now officially a Rota like me. Nobody feels weird if we live together, if we show affection for each other."
"So then, do you want to remain here in Catanzaro?"
"I don't know... I don't know how it will be afterwards. And then, we will have to look for a job, a way to support ourselves, something to do. But I don't know what I can do. You could possibly become a lawyer, earn good money, but I? Well, I can clean your home, prepare your meals, keep your things and your papers in order, run errands for you. I don't think I could do much more."
"But what would you like to do?"
"I'm not able to do anything."
"That's not true... but, anyway, what would you like to do, if you could?"
"Perhaps... well... anything, as long as I am near you."
"No, come on -- if you had a magic wand, what would you do?"
Enzo looked at him with a smile. Like if it was a game, he answered, "If I had a magic wand? I would have a liquor factory like that of don Michele in Nicolosi."
"Ah, really? And why? Would you like to get drunk for free?" Ruggiero asked, smiling.
Enzo laughed at that thought, "No. But every time I passed near there, I could smell such good perfumes... If liquor was not so expensive, I would have liked to take a sip, just from time to time. And then, a distillery... it seems like something magical to me," Enzo answered.
"And would you like to be able to produce liquor? Perhaps to invent new ones?"
"Eh, why not? It must be fun, and knowing that people appreciate something special, your secret recipe, which only you could produce... Isn't it so?"
"Sure, it could be amusing, and above all, earn us good money."
"If I only knew how to do that!" Enzo concluded.
Ruggiero changed the subject, but he was happy he discovered this secret dream of his boy. So, on the following days, unbeknown to Enzo, he started to study if and how he could make this dream a reality. He looked for books about the distillation of alcohol, of herbs, how to prepare infusions for liquor. He studied the regulations and laws (but would they change?) about the production of liquor. He also managed to get in touch with a distiller who had a small business in Catanzaro. Doing all that without Enzo finding out was anything but simple, but Ruggiero succeeded.
To begin such an activity they would need a starting capital that he didn't have -- to have a suitable place, to buy the equipment and materials, to pay an expert to start the activity. There were many difficulties. But Ruggiero certainly was not the type who would give up without trying first.
The day came when it was proclaimed that the entire former "Kingdom of the Two Sicilies" entered to be part of the new "Kingdom of Italy", with Victor Emanuel as its king. Ruggiero was requested to remain for a while as a councilor for the new governor sent from Turin - he also was provisional, a lean and wiry thirty-two year old Piedmontese, Count Aimaro Provera of Santena. Together, they need to organize elections for the representatives to send to the Parliament of the Kingdom, and the staff for the new local administration.
The Count, lodging in the same mansion where Ruggiero and Enzo lived, appreciated very much the work that Ruggiero carried out, and advices he was giving him, mainly about the passage from the old Bourbons' law system to the Piedmonteses' laws. A very delicate point was the ending of the privileges that the old aristocracy enjoyed, mainly the fact that the nobles also had to pay taxes on their estates. Almost all of them vehemently protested -- some of them argued that they should not have to pay taxes on land that was not so productive. But Ruggiero knew rather well the problem of a land's productivity, as he worked as a "corporal" in Sicily. So, in the presence of Count Provera, he received the landowners one after another, to discuss with them about their estates.
Ruggiero's speech was plain and simple, "If your land is not productive enough, try to sell it or else surrender it, in all or in part, to the State so that you would not be asked to pay taxes on them. If on the contrary you are able to make them produce enough, you would also earn enough to pay taxes." The land-register inherited from the Bourbons' administration was rather accurate about the possible productivity of these estates. Therefore, the Piedmontese tax laws could easily be applied. The real problem with the new system was not so much about estates taxes. It was rather the fact that while with the customary, unwritten law, poor people could freely gather dead wood for heating and cooking on these estates; with the new laws, if the owners opposed, this right would cease to exist. The concept of private property under the Piedmonteses' laws was much stricter.
Anyway, those days saw a good share of those land, houses, cottages, woods, warehouses, at times even entire villages, offered for sale, at prices often really low. Ruggiero proposed that the State buy the land and properties for which the owners could not find a buyer, with due taxes or future taxes as payment. On these estates, generally less productive, often covered by uncultivated woods or forests, poor people could continue to go and gather wood to burn. Count Provera accepted this solution since it didn't require the payment of public money. The passage from the old system to the new one was happening without real shocks.
In this period of changes, Ruggiero had some good news -- the new king's government, by request of General Garibaldi, decided that all the ex-governors and officials appointed by the General, would receive generous pay for the period they served and would continue to serve, and also a special one-time reward. Thus Ruggiero and Enzo found themselves in possession of a small fortune, a not really huge but anyway large sum of money.
In a small village near Catanzaro, at the borders of the borough of Spezzano, half way up the Sila hills, where Ruggiero went to perform an inspection, there were an old warehouse, a stretch of land and an annexed small warden's house for sale, near a stream of pure and fresh water, all for a really low price. Ruggiero thought they could buy them and went back to see them with Enzo.
"The little house is rather nice, if we restore it, it could be very nice. I would like to live here, but what can we do with the warehouse?" the boy asked.
"I was thinking... after we buy them, we will still have enough money. I gathered some information, we could buy some distillers and try to produce liquor..." Ruggiero said to him, thus revealing his project to him.
Enzo smiled, "You are a dear man, but who knows how to make liquor? How would we do that?"
"We can hire an old distiller whom I met, and he would help us to start the production. We can start with just the three of us, I think, working hard. Then if things go smoothly, we can hire more workers, a little at a time as we grow bigger..."
"Do you really think we can succeed?" the boy asked with interest.
"We can try. If we fail, anyway, we will still have a house... Don't you think it is worth trying?"
"But if things go bad, the house, alright, will remain ours, but how can we earn a living? Once the new authorities are installed, we will be without pay, both of us."
"If the distillery doesn't work, I can always work as a lawyer, or something else. We don't have such a big risk."
"But would you like being a liquor producer rather than a lawyer?"
"Sure. I never worked as a lawyer before either. So then?"
"Let's try..." Enzo said.
They bought the estate with the two buildings. The fact that there was also a pure water stream passing through the estate was important to their new activity. They also bought two horses, restored the little house and moved there. With the advice of the old distiller, they bought the retorts and all they needed, so after a few months they could start their production on a small scale. Enzo and Ruggiero learned the job while working with the old master Pasquale. Ruggiero still had to work for the government in Catanzaro, therefore he traveled back and forth. Enzo was excited for his new job, and devoted himself to it with enthusiasm. Ruggiero was happy seeing him so glad and satisfied.
"So then, Enzo, are you happy with your new life?" he asked him one evening after supper while they were going to bed.
"I am -- I have you, a job, our house... what else can I possibly desire? And you?" he asked hugging him.
"The same for me. I have a delightful lover. Blessed be the day I saw you there on the square!"
"I was just a kid... and I'm becoming a man. You like kids better. Will you get tired of me?"
"You still are a youth. Anyway, I am in love with you, not with any kid. I like you so very much, also now that you are becoming a man..."
"Look how much hair is growing on my legs, on my arms..."
"I find you so terribly sexy. You are more beautiful than ever."
"Are you serious?"
"Don't you see the effect you have on me?" Ruggiero sweetly said, starting to undress in front of him.
Enzo knelt in front of him, caressing his glorious erection, "Oh, Ruggiero, the liquor I prefer is the one you give me..." he sighed, greedily taking the rigid flesh pole between his lips.
"Come onto the bed..." the young man excitedly moaned, filled with desire.
On the following morning, they were still sleeping, tenderly embraced, when a strong knocking at the door woke them up, "Enzo! Ruggiero!" a voice from the outside was calling.
They got up, quickly got dressed and Enzo leaned out of the window to see who it could be at such an early hour. Sun had just come out. "Who's there?" he asked, seeing two men at their door.
The two men tilted back their heads to look up, and Enzo recognized one of them, "Manfredo! Wait, I'll come to open the door."
The two lovers went downstairs and welcomed the unexpected visitors, "What a pleasure to see you again, Manfredo! How are you? Why are you here again?"
"Enzo, Ruggiero, let me introduce you my friend. His name is Orlando Assoro." He was a twenty-eight-year-old man, dark, virile, with penetrating eyes, fascinating.
"Your... friend?" Ruggiero asked.
Manfredo understood the meaning of that question, "Yes, my lover. I met him in Naples, he had been in jail for three years as he lead a rebellion in Caltanissetta. We freed him and... you know, when I understood he liked me... I helped him make up for the three years of forced abstinence."
Ruggiero and Enzo smiled, "I bet you helped him make up for those years more than abundantly," Enzo said lightly and cunningly.
Orlando blushed, Manfredo smiled, "He is fantastic. He has a thing there, as hung as a horse and he loves riding me with it!"
Orlando blushed again, "Manfredo!" he protested in a low voice.
"Come on, Orlando, they are friends. Moreover they both know how much I like to be mounted."
"Are you going back to Sicily?" Ruggiero asked.
"Not really. We can't go back to his town, it would be impossible to continue living together. Possibly in some big town, Reggio or Palermo, or even Siracusa, who knows?"
"And what would you do?"
"We still don't know. He, was a wine-maker before, he worked in Marsala," Manfredo said, caressing his man with his eyes.
"But then... why don't you just stop here with us? We are producing liquor, we have just started, but our first stock sold well and we have to gradually grow. Wouldn't you like that?" Ruggiero proposed, looking at Enzo who nodded in assent.
The two visitors seemed interested, so they showed them the little distillery. Then invited them to stop at their place for some days, to think about it and make a decision. Manfredo told them that when General Garibaldi went further north from Naples, the king Victor Emmanuel went south with his army with the pretext of stopping him, conquering the Marche. Then he met Garibaldi, who gave him all the territories he conquered. Alduzzo decided to enroll in the Piedmontese army, now the Italian Army, to remain with a Venetian soldier he had a crush on. Now both of them were somewhere up north. Enrico, the doctor, seemed to be courting a Neapolitan young man.
Manfredo, instead, when the Garibaldian contingent had been dissolved, wanted to go back to the south with his new lover. He loved the warm, luminous, sunny south and his hot, luminous, sunny man. Orlando gradually lost his previous embarrassment. He was a really pleasant young man, cheerful, and the attraction the two lovers felt for each other was evident. For the moment, Enzo and Ruggiero settled them in a room on the second floor, near their own. When at night they overheard their low pleasure moans while making love, Enzo and Ruggiero became aroused in their room so they also united, filled with passion.
"Do you regret that I asked them to stay?" Ruggiero asked.
"Not at all, on the contrary."
"Aren't you jealous of Manfredo?" the young man asked him, somewhat fearful.
"And you? I also had sex with him."
"I am not jealous."
"Me either. And then, as long as you love me, I don't care if even you did try with Manfredo again."
"No, no! I have no intention to do that! I was wrong once. I don't want to make the same mistake again. Anyway, I think that Orlando is a terribly jealous guy. If they decided to stay, we will look for a home for them -- I want to be alone with you, in our home."
"Yes, love, me too. When we are alone we can make love more freely, not just at night in our bedroom," Enzo answered with a sly little smile.
Ruggiero looked at him with deep love -- he was completely conquered by that sweet, good-hearted, beautiful boy. It was true that he had always been attracted by young boys in the past. Enzo was becoming more and more of a man, virile, and yet his virility was now fascinating him. In the past, he would never just imagine being penetrated. Unconsciously, he would have felt that as an attack against his own virility. But now he couldn't even say whether he liked taking Enzo more or being penetrated by him. He felt fully virile even when he could feel Enzo inside himself. He discovered another thing with Enzo, during his convalescence period -- the pleasure to just caress, kiss, and arouse each other without necessarily reaching orgasm. This allowed them to enjoy each other more often, longer, and when they let themselves go and united completely, this brought them a more intense pleasure.
He loved Enzo, and could feel his love as something concrete, tangible, like a second skin wrapping around him. He could feel that he is part of him, like the air he was breathing, like the blood that was impetuously flowing in his veins.