Italy, Late 15th century
Alphonso sat at his work table, uncharacteristically idle. His hands rested on the arms of his ornately carved chair as he stared out at the gently rolling hills with their neat rows of olive trees. This year’s crop had been large, and the quality of the oil was proving to be exceptional. The weather had favored his entire estate, and the workers would be kept busy throughout the season, harvesting, threshing, crushing. But since this morning, all of that meant nothing to him. All he could think about was the little bundle lying in the corner of the room, the servant boy locked in a small room, and what those two things meant for the Cerci house.
He heard footsteps coming toward the study and rose to meet his father. The old man commanded the servant to close the door, and came toward his son, visibly annoyed. Alphonso bowed, and gestured to a chair beside the table. “Thank you for coming so quickly, father.”
The old man grumbled as he sat down. “This had better be important. I skipped Mass, and unless you say what you have to say very quickly, I’ll be late for an important meeting of the merchant’s association.”
He was about to go on, but he finally looked up and saw his son’s face. Alphonso’s sun-bronzed skin was pale, and there were lines of pain around his mouth.
“My son! What has happened?” The old man started to rise from his chair, alarmed. Alphonso was seldom disturbed by anything, his placid temperament allowing him to brush off almost any annoyance.
“I am cursed!” Alphonso moaned. He brushed his hand across his eyes, then pushed his chair back and slowly walked to the corner where the cloth-wrapped bundle lay on the floor. He picked it up and went to stand in front of his father, holding it out to the old man.
Francisco looked at the bundle, then up at his son, who didn’t move. Reluctantly, he took hold of a corner of the cloth and folded it back. When he had set aside the second corner, he gasped and fully uncovered what Alphonso was holding. It was the body of a small white dog, hardly more than a puppy. Its silky fur was smeared with blood.
“No! Pietro?” he asked, hardly able to speak. Alphonso nodded and a heavy silence hung between them. Francisco spoke again. “Is this the only . . .?” He couldn’t go on.
“No, father.” Alphonso’s voice shook. “He also cut the boy who serves him. The boy came running to me, in hysterics, and said that Pietro tried to drink his blood.”
Tears rose to Francisco’s eyes as he folded the cloth back over the tiny body, and gestured for his son to take it away. He closed his eyes, unwilling to accept the evidence that his family had inherited the curse of their kind.