Alchemist's Gift

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Absolute Corruption

Sergeant Leo Cardetti led his band of soldiers toward Adler Lager. The duke left him behind and allowed him to do whatever he thought he needed to keep the order. He also made Cardetti tax collector. His task was made simpler with a third of the population dead from the plague. Every young man who was able was riding with the duke, and the perennial famine kept those who were left weak and desperate.

“Sergeant, how many?” Mario rode up next to Sergeant Cardetti.

“Ten. Six girls and four boys.” Due to an oversight, Leo Cardetti had to take Mario Rubino into his confidence with this shameful endeavor. He truly did not like anything about Mario, but cutting him in was the only way he could trust him.

“Will not that fat little friar make a stink?” Mario asked as he pinched a pimple on his cheek.

“Most likely, but what is he going to do?” Leo kept his eyes straight ahead so he would not have to look at this excuse for a soldier next to him.

“Not a goddamn thing.” Mario inspected the white glob on his fingertip and wiped it on his horse’s mane.

“I have asked you not to use God’s name in vain around me, have I not?”

“Yes, Captain,” Mario said with a grin.

At one time, Leo Cardetti had been a captain. A miscalculation of the enemy’s strength and number, and a string of impossible lies to cover his error, had cost him the lives of all his men except Mario--and subsequently his commission. Duke Gunter demoted him but allowed him to stay in his service.

“I should have sent you to the front lines that day with the others,” he said dryly.

“Come on, Leo, I was only thinking of the good old days.”

“You will call me Sergeant Cardetti in front of these numbskulls.”

Mario pushed it as far as he could and settled back down. He had business to discuss. “When we get to the orphanage what do you want us to do? “

“Six girls,” the agent said. “Light-haired girls. Blondes, if there are any.”

“Little ones or them’s that are budding?” His eyes sparkled when he asked.

“The older and stronger ones. Same with the boys.” Cardetti never thought he would sink so low. He was old, and he lost his pension along with his commission. The money would have to come from somewhere.

“How long will we have them in camp?” Mario licked his lips and sat up a little straighter in the saddle.

“The Jew said he’d get them in two or three days. Why?” Leo already knew the answer.

“That will give me and the boys enough time to break them in.”

“Mario, you make me ashamed of myself. I am too old and tired to stop you and the men from doing what you like, but remember, they are worth a fair amount, so do not break them when you break them in.”

“How much are they worth?” His eyes narrowed as he leaned in to hear.

“Lean away. Your breath stinks like death. Five gold florins.” In actuality, it was ten gold pieces, five now for the deed and five when the Jew returned. The exchequer would receive two, one for the coffers, and the other to smooth things over if there were any problems. Leo would keep the other three and give Mario three silver pieces for his participation. “Four go to the exchequer, and you and I will split the other gold piece; three silvers for you and seven silvers for me. When we get there, Fra Benito will only open the door if it is me. When it is open, give me enough time to get outside the gate. You can do whatever you want. One other thing: do not even think of telling these idiots that we are riding with about any money. Understood?”

“Do not worry, Sergeant Cardetti; I know enough to keep my mouth shut about that. Where are these whelps going?”

“Who cares? The Jew said some Moor who has his castle on an island off of Sardinia… or maybe it was Corsica.”

“That is a good place for them. They’ll not be coming back from there.”

“No, I do not suppose they will. Get in formation.” When Mario was out of earshot, Leo Cardetti looked up to the heavens and closed his eyes. “God, forgive me,” he whispered.

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