Moon Dark: The Auriano Curse
I am Harold Dunfield. Although I consider myself an Englishman, I have lived in Venice for many years. I am the second son of a wealthy merchant who left his entire fortune to my older brother. My father and I did not get along, although I learned a great deal about manipulation and coercion at his knee. I also learned about the importance of gathering investment property.
After my father died of apoplexy, my older brother informed me I was no longer welcome in the family home. At the age of sixteen, I stowed away on one of my father’s merchant ships. I befriended the ship’s master and learned all I could from him. We sailed to exotic places like Persia and Java and Madagascar. By the time I returned to England, I had traded and bargained my way from being penniless to having my pockets lined with gold coins. Unfortunately, the ship’s master fell overboard on the voyage home. I was elected as the replacement master by the crew, and so the largest percentage of profit from the trip, after my brother took his share, fell to me, much to his dismay. Upon reaching England’s shores, I set up my own trading company. I began with only a corner in another merchant’s warehouse, but soon parlayed that up to owning my own warehouse, and then several scattered along the docks of London. I paid duty on some of the merchandise, but a great deal of it seemed to become lost before it ever reached my warehouses. Fortunately, it turned up again in shops around the city. The shopkeepers were quite grateful for the special and exotic items I provided.
I married later in life to a young woman whose papa thought I was wealthier than I was. Her dowry was substantial. She died in a tragic accident before she ever conceived a child. I had warned her about the stairs in our London home many times, how they could be slippery, being as highly waxed as they were, but she ignored me. She slipped on them and fell one night, breaking her neck. I moved to Venice soon after.
While I was still in London, I met a man who seemed to hold opinions and goals similar to my own. He offered me a place in a secret association that pursued financial superiority and, as a result, shadow power. I was intrigued, and after further chats with the gentleman, for he did, in fact, belong to the landed gentry, I decided to join this organization. I was duly inducted and instructed in the secrets of the Legion of Baal. I also learned about the ancient sorceress, Nulkana, as well as the adversarial family of the House of Auriano. And I was told about the magical Sphere of Astarte.
When I moved to Italy, I continued as a merchant. I made a decent living, and over the years gained a small fortune through investments I had made with the dowry from my late wife. Through my connections in the Legion, I was able to amass a great number of paintings and several sculptures. When I heard that King George was interested in acquiring artwork, I began the negotiations to sell him most of my collection. Yet the arrangements had to remain secret, for the Venetians would never allow all these masterpieces to leave their borders. The government spies, called the capo neri or black capes, watched everyone to be sure none of their secrets were ever revealed or allowed to travel beyond the Veneto, the land west of the city ruled by the Doge and his Council of Ten. If they discovered I planned to smuggle their artwork to England, I would end up floating face-down in a canal with a dagger in my back. It was just at this time that I received a letter from the wife of my late nephew.
Her husband, Richard, had died an untimely death in a tragic riding accident. It seems he fell from his horse and broke his neck. He had run his small estate into debt, and the poor woman had to sell off everything to pay the bills. She was penniless and had no other relatives who could help. I had corresponded occasionally with Richard because of our mutual interest in ancient artifacts, although for different reasons. His was scholarly, while mine was monetary. His widow claimed to be knowledgeable in art, and offered to catalogue my collection, a task I had put off, although it needed to be done before further negotiations to sell it to King George could continue. I agreed to let her come to Venice to live under my roof, for I saw an opportunity to use her in another capacity. She would be the perfect messenger between the king’s agent and myself. It was only after I offered to pay her passage to Venice that I learned she had a child. But even a child could have its uses.
When she arrived in Venice, I knew I had made the correct decision. She brought with her a piece of the magical Sphere of Astarte, which she offered to me as part of my collection of artifacts. Obviously, she had no idea of its value. I could barely contain my excitement. Of course, eventually, it would have to be turned over to the Lord High of the Legion, but for now, it was mine. And I began to reap its benefits.
My nephew’s widow was quite lovely, besides being obedient and very knowledgeable about art as she claimed. I decided that after she had catalogued my collection and completed her duty as my secret messenger, I would arrange a marriage with some influential, wealthy Venetian. The connection would raise my standing among the snobbish society, bring me an attractive settlement, and get her out from under my roof, along with her son.
She settled in quite well, performing her chores with diligence. My only complaint was that no Venetian seemed willing to wed her. At first, the men would be quite taken with her, but then they would always find some fault or other. I kept my patience, knowing that eventually I would be able to coerce one or another to wed her. Besides, I could not let her go until I had completed negotiations with the king’s agent. I felt everything would work out in my favor. After all, the Prince of Auriano, one of the most wealthy, influential, and most eligible bachelors in Venice had accepted an invitation to my masquerade ball. Despite the animosity between his family and the Legion of Baal, I decided I would keep my connection with the Legion a secret and cultivate an association with the prince. Wasn’t it Machiavelli who wrote to keep one’s friends close and one’s enemies closer?
Then my nephew’s wife lost one of the messages, and she claimed that someone had attempted to kill her. I believed it was all rubbish. But then fate began to conspire against me.
Harold Dunfield, the uncle of Sabrina’s late husband, is very loosely based on the English Consul to Venice (1744-1760), Joseph Smith. Smith was a connoisseur and collector, and acted as a banker to the English community in Venice. He took up residence in Venice in 1700 (almost a century before the time of Moon Dark), and was in the import-export trade and part of the merchant banking business. He was a patron of the Venetian artists, most notably Canaletto, who specialized in painting views of the city and its surroundings. He sold his art collection to George III of Great Britain, which became a major portion of the Royal Collection of drawings in the Print Room at Windsor Castle. Obviously, he was not involved with anything as nefarious as the secret Legion of Baal, nor did he have to evade the authorities and the capo neri to sell his collection.
Sources (on Joseph Smith)
- “Joseph Smith (Art Collector).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
- Robilant, Andrea. A Venetian Affair. New York: Knopf, 2003. Print.