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The Prisoner's Gold

His senses on full alert, he strained to hear every rustle and scrape on the other side of the wall. He knew the Genoese guards were returning his neighbor after yet another round of torture. With any luck, they were done for the day and wouldn’t be coming for him next.

He would find out soon enough.

The uniformed guards moved into the adjacent cell and dumped their day’s entertainment on the floor with a wet splat. Then they quickly closed the door behind them and left without a word. Only then did Rustichello let out the breath that he had been holding.

He didn’t move until he heard the guards’ heavy footsteps recede down the dark corridor. He always did his best to avoid their notice, unless they were coming for him. On those occasions there was nothing to do but submit. He was too weak and frail to fight them anymore.

There was no sense in making them mad.

He slowly stood from the loose straw on the floor that served as his bed and brushed away the pieces that were tangled in his hair. Then he slipped a hand into his ragged linen trousers and scratched at the fungal infection on the right side of his groin. Thanks to the humid air in the city of Genoa, everything in the dungeon was damp. The walls, the ceiling, the floor, his clothes. Molds and lichens grew over every surface of his cell. Some patches were so large that they looked like broccoli.

On the bright side, at least he hadn’t started eating them.

Or naming them.

Confident that the guards were gone, he moved over to the wall and peered through the small window into the next cell. It was little more than a missing stone that had been dug out by a previous occupant, but the rectangular gap served a monumental purpose. Rustichello and his neighbor used the empty space to chat, to pass the long hours well into the night.