Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Marius de Şimand
The childe and agent of the Prince of Weissenburg, this Lasombra masquerades as a Hungarian nobleman with wide and varied interests across the southern Siebenburgen. He is a touchstone of sorts between the Ashen Band and the Concord of Ashes.
A tall and pale Hungarian, garbed in the rustic finery of a frontier noble. His unruly black hair and handsome, strong features tend to turns heads, even if his expression is a little overly stern, or perhaps bitter. He bears a short sword and dagger of functional make rather than ceremonial, although his bearing is not quite that of a warrior.
When on the road, or expecting trouble, Marius dons leather cuir bouilli . He also carries a light, round shield, but he typically eschews a helmet of any kind. At such times, he usually arms himself with his bow, a quiver of arrows, and a shepherd’s axe (known as a baltag among the Vlachs and a fokos to the Magyars), a tool and weapon common to the Carpathians. It is a combination between a light axe, a hammer, and a 3 foot walking stick. Marius has also shown himself to be a fine shot with the composite bow, both in the saddle and unmounted, and he is known to prefer picking off his foes from afar rather than resorting to melee combat.
Note: Marius has been flesh-crafted by Veceslav to resemble Iulia’s brother in her new form. His true face was rather less handsome, with a broken nose and several scars from the numerous beatings he received growing up. He was also considerably taller. From time to time, the Vlach has admitted that he is troubled by his inability to remember the original appearance of his own face.
The saturnine and secretive Marius has been involved with the machinations of the coterie known as the Concord of Ashes almost from their very foundation. While he was not present in AD 1196, throughout their brief association during the events surrounding the murder of Bishop Alfonzo’s childer in Constantinople, he was taken on by the coterie when they formally came together in Buda-Pest the following year. He was first encountered on the slave block at the cattle markets of Pest, doing his (inadequate) best to shield the pulchritudinous noblewoman, Sherazhina, from the worst of the freezing winter weather. Even then, his gaze lowered, his lip split, and his back scored by the bite of the overseer’s whip, it was clear that his will was strong, his heart defiant, and his intentions noble. When Sherazhina suddenly made her break for freedom, he let out a shout of encouragement and kicked at the nearest slaver, only to be soundly thrashed for his trouble.
Several of the Cainites present decided to assist Sherazhina in her flight, and the young woman was brought under the protection of the coterie. Later that same evening, their quest to Tihuta now assigned, they returned to the slave market and more than a dozen mortals, Marius among them, were also purchased to serve as servants and sustenance for the difficult road ahead. Like Sherazhina, and indeed most of the other Vlachs who had been obtained, he seemed to understand the nature of the Cainites who now held their lives, and deaths, in their hands. It was obvious to them also that the spirited young man bristled at his captive status, but was willing to make the most of his unfortunate situation. Almost immediately, the young Vlach was drawn to the elan of the Saxon Gangrel, Sir Gunthar, and also to the mystique of the scholastic Lasombra, Iulia, who displayed considerable kindness and a certain protectiveness to her countrymen. He approached the knight first, hoping that his quality would be recognised, but Sir Gunthar quickly disabused Marius of any notion that he might be treated as anything more than a good servant from a conquered people. Undeterred, he instead sought out Iulia, who was markedly more receptive to his hopes.
On the long and perilous road to Tihuta, Marius quickly became something of a herd major-domo to the Lasombra scholar. A fast learner, and possessed of an opportunistic streak, he was often found communicating the expectations of the Cainites towards their thralls, and also passing on the needs and discomforts of the mortals towards their masters. His facility for organisation and mediation served the formative coterie well throughout the months of the arduous journey, and also during the perilous construction of the first level of the tower in the pass. Although he had no great aptitude for battle, he also eagerly took on the lessons provided by Sir Conrad de Monreal, Sir Gunthar von St. Wolfgang, Agmundir the Cunning, and Laszlo Szantovitch, eventually learning the use of the axe, the dagger, and the sword. However, it was with the bow that he showed talent, and through exhaustive lessons Iulia began training him to shoot with enviable accuracy both in the saddle and out of it.
After many arduous months, the great task was completed, and the coterie formally came together under the moniker of the Concord of Ashes, a name consciously chosen to not just emulate the foundation of the original (and now dysfunctional, if not defunct) Council of Ashes, but to symbolise that all members would suffer no differences of opinion to prevent their mutual regard and assistance in times of trouble. For their loyalty and their success, a number of vacant demesnes within the Siebenburgen were ceded to the neonates by the Árpáds, thanks to the influence of their new patron, Prince Vencel Rikard of Buda-Pest. Sir Gunthar received Kronstadt, Iulia was given Weissenburg, and to Veceslav was granted the new fortification in the Tihuta Pass. Sir Conrad was forced to withdraw from the quest, but his place was taken by the Templar warrior, Brother Alaric, and the Lasombra was granted land to establish a priory for his Order in Slavonia. Against the wishes of her sire, Sister Maude chose to give up her rights to a city of her own, sagely remarking that she lacked the temperament for rule. To mark the occasion, Iulia asked her fellows to bear witness as, with great ceremony, she made Marius her ghoul.
The following years were good ones for the young Vlach. He was designated the seneschal of his sire, and he busied himself working with others among Prince Iulia’s herd to establish her spheres of influence within the city and throughout the county. To better move about Weissenburg as an equal to the local Saxons, he submitted to his domitor’s desire that Knez Veceslav should flesh-craft the both of them into a pair of Magyar siblings from an obscure, indigent aristocratic family based well to the east of the burgaviate. In return for their submission and cooperation, key members of the Udharly’s were given enough funds to found themselves in respectability once more, and their memories were altered to find nothing amiss with the Cainites that now sheltered within the boughs of the family tree. Henceforth, the ghoul became known throughout the region as Mariusz Udharly; he soon married the eldest daughter of an up-and-coming family on the borders of the burgraviate, and set about establishing a reputation as a vintner seeking business partners in the city. Under this guise, he was able to assist in the management of much of his mistress’ affairs, while simultaneously developing and furthering his own designs.
Early on in his association with the Concord, Marius harboured considerable resentment towards the Magyars and Saxons, peoples of favour to the Hungarian Crown. Feeling that they had been complicit in depriving the Vlachs of their rightful lands and their native religion, he was prone to excessive suspicion and wrathful designs on both ethnic groups. Although for the most part he has been sullenly quiet concerning his own origins, he has also alluded to his family being an important one in his village, and that they were thrown off their land and reduced to slavery for refusing to convert from their Orthodox faith to the Latin rite. He has also said they were punished with bondage because they fought back against their oppressive manorial lord. While slavery of Christians is technically forbidden in Hungary, officials have been known to turn a blind eye to Orthodox captivity, since in some circles the schismatics are not seen as proper, Latin coreligionists. Infrequently, truculent and stubborn followers of the rival church have found themselves in chains as a penalty for their defiance. Since his liberation at the hands of the Concord, Marius has made a number of investigations concerning the fate of his family, but he has never turned up any trace of their whereabouts if, indeed, they survive at all.
Şimand, the village of his birth, stands among flat, lightly forested country west of the Apuseni mountains, a barrier that has long stood as an informal border between the lands of Transylvania and those of Hungary proper. As such, he grew to adulthood with the reality of the Magyar over-lordship, which had ground all hope of freedom or organised resistance under heel and hoof generations ago. Those Vlachs unlucky enough to be born there were bound to the land in a system not dissimilar from serfdom; they were free to move their herds of sheep up into the mountain valleys in spring and summer, but had to leave hostages behind so that they would return in the autumn and winter to fulfill other duties. These included labour for the manorial lord, and also forced conscription in the frequent border squabbles and dynastic strife between foreign, often brutal, Hungarian potentates. Invariably, these conflicts would also create desperate men, and the danger of bandits and deserters taking shelter in the mountains would increase. Both sides usually raided the goods, the crops, and the herds of the Vlachs, meaning starvation and privation were common. It was a violent and desperate upbringing, his days filled with fear of the mortal lords who would take what they want if they found it, and his nights filled with dread as he and his kin huddled close to their fires, terrified of the lords of the night who would claim far worse, if they could. Capped as it was by a brutal and cruel captivity, the harsh experiences of his mortal years have scarred Marius’ psyche deeply, leaving him prone to brooding and dourness.
Even so, his association with the Concord and the Ashen Band has softened his attitudes considerably. In particular, the often sarcastic but eminently logical observations of Sister Maude Khlesl have served to give Marius pause in his prejudices, as has the generous change of heart that his own mistress has displayed since they witnessed the senseless destruction of the 4th Crusade. During the events of that disastrous pilgrimage, and for 5 years afterwards, Marius served as his mistress’ agent as she capably, but ultimately ineffectually, navigated the treacherous waters of the Cainite intrigues that sought to steer the Franks both before and after the Great Sack of Constantinople of 1204. At the feet of Prince Iulia and her own sire, Lady Katerina, he gained an excellent understanding of the levers of power, alliance, and betrayal during this time. In the wanton brutality and greed of the crusaders, the bloodthirsty machinations of the likes of their would-be Cainite puppet-masters, and the cruel capriciousness of the Antonians and the Narsene Lasombra, he saw the very worst in men, both alive and undead.
And yet, working with good and worthy masters and coterie-mates in the years since, both among the Concord and the Ashen Band, he has become convinced that both virtue and villainy exists in the hearts of all peoples, even his own, and that Lord Vencel’s rhetoric concerning the value of peaceful trade and security in Transylvania is a worthwhile goal to pursue for Vlach, Magyar, and Saxon alike. The educated realisation that often, the strifes that plagued his people were caused by Cainites, whether they be Arpad Ventrue against other Arpad Ventrue, or the Tzimisce servants of Vladimir Rustovitch against all of the Arpad factions or other Tzimisce enemies, has only deepened his commitment to the aims of the Concord, and engendered a disgust for the selfish political games that the clans play without considering the consequences to ordinary folk.
It would seem that this is the quality of Marius de Şimand. He perceives and understands his fellow Cainites and their politics intimately, he can advise comprehensively, and yet it is apparent that he has no designs on such power himself. Indeed, it is known among the Concord that even before his Embrace, Prince Iulia prized his insights enough to send him ahead to scout Weissenburg in 1208 and 1209, when the Nosferatu brood of Octavus Silberschmied displaced her own regent, Crispin Herkel, after her lengthy sojourn in Constantinople. And it was to Marius that she placed her trust in 1211, when the rest of the Concord travelled to Magdeburg after Lord Jürgen declared his praxis over the Burzenland. Little did he know then, but this last mission was the last test in a long line of subtle trials that Prince Iulia and Lady Katerina had laid down for him, and his part in the successful conclusion of the Magdeburg Affair earned him the Embrace.
Marius has never looked back since he was brought across into the ranks of the Lasombra. He is tremendously proud that he is the first progeny of Prince Iulia of Weissenburg, and despite his relatively weak generation, Marius is also well-pleased that he can recite an illustrious and glorious bloodline stretching all the way back to the Lasombra Antediluvian himself. Others among the Ashen Band (particularly Ulrich von Wettin and Berengar von Dohna) may boast sires, grandsires, and bloodlines that hold great temporal power, but only Marius can readily trace his bloodline back to the First City itself.
He is deeply committed to the aims of the Concord of Ashes, and he sees the Ashen Band as a natural extension of those aims. Peace and prosperity through security and trade, as voiced by Vencel Rikard all those years ago, will also bring justice and weal for all, so far as Marius is concerned. It is for this reason that he was eager to take his place among the coterie that would become the Ashen Band, and it is for this same reason that he works constantly to see them overcome their petty rivalries and self-interest. Although he would likely never admit it to any save his sire, Marius will steal, lie, betray, and even murder for this greater good, and the dreams of his daily sleep are rarely troubled by his conscience.
For his own part, it is obvious to his companions, and himself, that a leader he is not. He can mediate, smooth over differences, and slip readily into the folds of society with his sly and secretive ways, but he has little talent for leading the charge, serving as spokesperson, or commanding the masses. For nigh on a mortal generation, he stood with the Concord through its greatest travails. He recognises the essential value of a good beta, and strives towards that ideal; always ready with the observation of the common man, invariably looking for danger around the corner, and forever striving to see every angle to the problems that his more forthright companions might fail to see. Whether it be Kronstadt, Weissenburg, or Constantinople, his strength has habitually been in aiding those who can front the group, not in being that person himself.
As the interests of the Ashen Band have verged more on the periphery of the Burzenland rather than within the city itself, and few of his fellows have any skill with woodslore, Marius has taken it upon himself to reconnect with the skills of his mortal youth. Along with Sága, he has established himself as a very capable scout, often venturing unseen well beyond the movements of his fellows and reporting back valuable intelligence of the road ahead. Early in their association, he spoke of having “ways and means” of inspecting the perilous mountain pass south of the village of Etteldorf, and several of the coterie have grown to suspect that his sire’s companion, Sister Maude Khlesl, has given him ghostly allies that assist him in his efforts.
He also serves as a ready touchstone with the Concord. Using Animalism-conditioned carrier pigeons and an elaborate cipher, Marius can communicate with his sire’s court in Weissenburg and that of her ally, Knez Veceslav of Tihuta, and expect a reply several times over each night. This circumvents the need to use the Gangrel messenger Tiberiu, and affords the Concord and the Ashen Band a great advantage in coordinating their activities, should the need arise.
Lineage: Childe of Prince Iulia of Weissenburg, Childe of Lady Katerina of Adrianople, Childe of Adrastos Zonitzes (d), Childe of Prince Marcus Licinius of Adrianople, Childe of Zarathustra, Childe of Boukephos, Childe of Lasombra. Marius is of the 10th generation, but his bloodline is both noted and honoured in the Byzantine East and the Levant.
Embrace: AD 1211. He became a ghoul in 1198, soon after his 23rd birthday.