Alchemist's Gift

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To the Victor go the Rewards

Newly appointed Sergeant Mario Rubino rode his horse along the country road, away from the Hermes farmhouse, back to Adler Kralle castle. The morning was clearing, and he could see some blue sky between the clouds. He rubbed the knot on his forehead and cursed both of them--Roland for standing up to him, and Sofia for being unattainable. But the promotion to sergeant and the gold piece in his purse lessened his anger, and he was thinking of ways to use his new position to add more gold to his budding fortune.

Further down the country road, a gathering of peasants, farmers, and townsfolk were headed toward the Hermes farmhouse and to all other outlying farms and homes with the news. In the very front of the line was a burly peasant by the name of Gunner, who was flanked by his two barefoot children, both little boys. Gunner carried an effigy of a small gallows and a hanged man. The effigy had a placard around its neck that read: “Gunter the Cruel, dead at last!” Every fourth or fifth step he would lift the effigy a little higher and shake it up and down, causing the figure to swing back and forth to the delight and laughter of the people behind him.

Some of the revelers held gourds and tapped them with sticks. One man had a flute, and a woman grabbed her skillet and a wooden spoon and set the cadence. There was much laughter and enthusiastic chatter. Some of the girls picked the early spring flowers and wove them into garlands and wore them in their hair. Two girls twirled ribbons tied to the ends of wooden wands. Little boys held sticks up like swords and marched in an exaggerated parody of soldiers.

Sergeant Mario Rubino quickened his pace when he saw the group of people coming toward him. He did not know who they were or understand why they were there. He was going to find out.

The burly leader Gunner raised his arm, and the collection of citizens came to a halt.

When the sergeant was less than five paces away, he yelled out. “Make way. Move out of the way, in the name of Duke Gunter.”

Gunner looked over his shoulder. “Hold fast now. We need not be afraid anymore.”

The crowd did not move, and Mario had to rein his horse. He quickly looked at the crowd. “Move aside. I am a sergeant of Duke Gunter.”

The group slowly surrounded Mario’s horse. He held up his riding crop. “Let me by or you will feel the sting of my whip.” Mario looked from left to right and then behind him. He saw no way out.

Gunner grabbed the bridle and held it firm.

“You’d better let me by.” Mario’s voice cracked.

“It is him; he is the one. He is the one who took our little Helga to the woods. He did terrible things to her,” cried an angry mother. Her daughter of eleven, Helga, buried her face in her mother’s bosom, unable to look at her attacker.

A farmer named Jacob spoke out in an excited and defiant voice. “He has stolen from my farm more times than I can say.”

The orphan Hans pointed and yelled, “He took the girls and boys from the orphanage to sell to the Saracens. He is the devil.”

A rock hit Mario on his shoulder plate. Another rock hit him in the helmet and knocked it off. A sea of hands reached up to him on all sides and grabbed at his legs and around his waist. He raised his riding crop and struck at the tugging hands. Someone made a quick grab and snatched the riding crop away. They grabbed his arms and pulled him backward over the horse’s rump and onto the ground.

Everyone had a hand at stripping Mario naked. He cried and begged. They dragged him to a nearby tree. He tried to pull away. He screamed. He repeated he was a sergeant of Duke Gunter’s. They laughed and mocked him.

Someone produced a piece of rope, and they bound his arms to his sides. They tied his kicking feet together and hung him upside down from the branch of an oak tree. They made sport of him. He begged for mercy. He cried. He even called out for his mother.

Helga’s father took his pig knife from his waistband and with the blessing and encouragement of the crowd, and the help of Gunner to hold their captive still, castrated the screaming Mario. Blood pumped from the wound and ran down his stomach onto his chest. The father knelt and, to the applause of the others, rubbed the severed testicles in Mario’s face, and then threw the bloody handful into the brush. Men, women, and even the little boys and girls imitated their elders and snatched up branches off of trees or sticks off the ground and to a person they beat Sergeant Mario Rubino to death to the jeers of those who suffered under him and Gunter’s thugs and bullies.

They all beat him, even the little boys and girls of four and five years old. They beat him for almost fifteen minutes before he was dead. They left his battered and bloodied body hanging from a tree branch. Already a few ravens were calling to each other announcing the find. The crowd tossed their sticks and branches onto the ground and returned to the country road. They walked along silently at first. The woman with the skillet and wooden spoon started up the lively rhythm, and before long the flautist joined in, the girls twirled their ribbons, the little boys marched like real soldiers now, and the chatter and laughter returned. It was a new day.

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