Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Count Razvan Basarab
This old and cunning ghoul is the influential Count of Argeș - a large, autonomous holding in the stateless borderlands between Bulgaria and Transylvania. Together with a number of other like-minded lords, they hold the land against all comers.
An old Romanian nobleman with receding, wispy white hair, a neatly cropped beard and glittering brown eyes. He has a hard, bitter set to his features, and his frame is unbent in spite of his age. His garb is that of a very wealthy man, with fine embroidery and cloth of gold sewn into his velvet robes. He leans on a walking staff capped with a silver dragon motif, and is armed with an antique sword and dagger of extraordinary craftsmanship.
One of the more powerful Vlach nobles in the southern foothills of the Transylvanian Alps, Razvan Basarab is an important player on the stage of mortal politics, and an invaluable servant to his mistress, Kneza Raluca of Câmpulung. Conte Razvan has been the ruler of the castle at a strategic crossing of the river Argeș for more than 150 years, and has served Raluca and her own master, Tabak Ruthven, for all of that time. The extensive region of his demesnes includes the road on on the lucrative Kronstadt – Bucharest – Sofia trade route, and taxing the passage has made him extremely wealthy and influential. The count is arguably the most important border lord in the buffer zone between Greater Hungary and the Empire of Bulgaria, and many lords and merchants court his favour, garnering him further wealth and power. It is said that one way or the other, merchants passing along his route will pay silver for the right- it is simply a measure of doing it the easy way or the hard way. When he calls his banners, he commands hundreds of men, many of whom are light cavalry of Cuman and Bulgarian extraction, and most of them are happy to be the problem on the route as well as the solution, if the master should so allow.
While few among the Concord have made his acquaintance, it is known to them that Count Razvan was the mortal father of their companion, Veceslav, and that the two of them maintain an amicable relationship despite the former undergoing his transition into the higher status of undeath. Save Marius de Şimand, all of the Ashen Band met him when they journeyed to Argeș to treat with him on behalf of his own nominal mistress, Lady Raluca. Their travelling companion, Gigel, was only too happy to illuminate them concerning what he knew of the count’s history and character. The more he shared with them, the more they grew to understand just how much the Tzimisce disliked and perhaps even feared the much older mortal.
According to the seneschal of Câmpulung, in his youth Razvan considered becoming a ghoul to be little more than a stepping stone to earning the “Dead Water”, and he worked hard at becoming indispensable to his mistress. She supported his rise through the ranks of the mortal Oltenian aristocracy in the early 11th century, as the Bulgarian empire dissolved under the dual stresses of a resurgent Byzantine empire from the south, and the raids of migrating Pechenegs from the north. Whether the invader of the day was Greek, Pecheneg, Cuman, or Hungarian, Razvan would find the ways and means to ensure the stability and autonomy of his domain. His power grew further throughout the 12th century as he established a network of alliances with other Vlach potentates who shared his interests and instinct for building alliances and then opportunistically discarding them when the time was just right.
“Indeed,” Gigel would remark, “many vampires could learn much from Lord Razvan’s talent for treachery…”
Unfortunately, he played the game only too well, for Raluca decided that he was too valuable as her mortal catspaw to ever consider bringing him across into the ranks of the undead. He saw his dreams of being granted the Embrace dry up long ago, and instead seeks the elevation of all of his family to Clan Tzimisce. When his two eldest sons, Costin and Veceslav, neared manhood, Raluca arrived at the castle and insisted that they fight to the death for her favour. The winner would earn an education at the finest education institutions of Byzantium, eventually a position as her agent, and finally a candidature for the Embrace as her seneschal. Long steeled against the unreasonable demands of the Tzimisce, and eager to please his Domitor, Razvan put a sword in each of their hands while his youngest, Bogdan, looked on.
Razvan expected Costin, already a skilled warrior and his favourite, to make short work of his little brother Veceslav, whom the count had, in truth, never truly warmed to because of his preference for books over warcraft. He talked up the older son’s prowess to Raluca, and promptly wound up embarrassed for his efforts. Veceslav proceeded to outwit Costin, and in an inspired (or desperate) display of ability, managed to run him through. Raluca was not at all pleased that her groomed candidate was not worthy. She broke the count’s jaw with a vicious slap, then bade Veceslav pack his few meagre possessions. The boy left for Câmpulung immediately, soon found himself in Constantinople, and never looked back. Costin, as it turns out, actually survived the terrible wound, and after many years of humble service to his father he was even allowed to leave the pig sty and move back into the castle. As for Bogdan, forever after he looked up to Veceslav, and was anxious to prove his own mettle against him.
Years later, Raluca fell afoul of the displeasure of her own master, when it was discovered that she was being not just disloyal, but obviously so. For her transgressions, she was removed from her position, Blood Bound to Tabak, and forced to spend the better part of three decades as a fleshy tapestry in his court so that she might learn the proper panache with regards to politics, intrigue, and betrayal. Eventually she gained a second chance to prove her loyalty and capability and was allowed to return to her position as knez. Raluca now serves her master meekly, and has no designs on forging her own Voivodate.
In the meanwhile, however, Veceslav had slipped through her fingers, taking service first with the Voivode Vladimir Rustovitch, and then with the Obertus of Constantinople. He was eventually Embraced by Gabor the Bulgar, a servant of Symeon, which irked Rustovitch to no end as he had designs of his own upon the mortal. Razvan would have been pleased with connections to the self-proclaimed Voivode of Voivodes, but saw geopolitical advantage to having a closer Bulgarian connection (even a poor one) instead. He has worked hard to prove his friendship to Veceslav ever since, and his Cainite son was pleased to reciprocate. The two still constantly trade favours, and look to each other’s interests.
Bogdan too, took service with the Tzimisce when he came of age. He earned the Embrace as well, and now serves Voivode Mircea Dzardescu as his Warmaster. Having learned his lesson, the count has been careful to maintain cordial relations with Bogdan too. He now seeks to find a master for Costin’s son and daughters, and hopes that both of his Tzimisce children will consider “keeping it in the family”.
According to the conjecture raised by Gigel, Raluca still has Razvan’s loyalty, although with more qualifications than in years past. His time as a free agent during her incarceration allowed him to exercise the levers of power far more than she formerly allowed, and it would be inconvenient for her to rein him in now. The influence that he can put at her disposal has truly made her a power in the south, and the kneza has been forced to recognise that she depends upon her servant more than he depends upon her. Even her blood is no longer his sole source, as Razvan has made it known that he will take payments of Cainite vitae in return for the exercise of his extensive influence. More than a few Tzimisce are pleased to do so, even knowing that he will only take such payment once, or at most twice. Raluca is aware of his success and, diminished in her own will to cultivate power, she is pleased with him, though she now watches him much more closely than she once did.
Razvan, for his part, is less than happy with this development for he knows that when Tzimisce grow to rely too heavily on mortals, they are wont to dispose of them altogether. His inspired (or perhaps mad) solution to the quandary is to tie himself so tightly to her that she cannot envisage existence without him- in essence to tip the pendulum so far his way that his survival is assured. In order to do this, he has begun luring his fellow border counts into an even more cohesive union, one that might eventually serve to forge a nation of its own, catapulting he and his lax mistress into great power. A dangerous game indeed, but one in which he has well over a century of experience.
Unfortunately, he may have once again proved too successful. In the pursuit of this new plan, it would appear that his abilities and proclivities have earned the notice of Tabak Ruthven as well. The master of Kneza Raluca harbours territorial ambitions of his own, and he too has begun to scrutinise the work of the lord of Argeș, unceremoniously making use of Razvan’s power when it suits him. According to a hopeful Gigel, this new interest from her superior might bring him low in the end, for Tabak is far less likely to put up with either his incorrigible impertinence or his independent streak.
There may be some truth to this theory. When the Ashen Band presented themselves to Count Razvan in his throne room, he made a show of treating them indifferently, even imperiously. Indeed, it would seem that the old ghoul had no fear of the Cainites in his midst at all. The Cumans, he claimed, were no threat to him. His castle was strong, his vassals well-armed and able, and his allies were many; included among them were a number of Cuman chieftains who would answer his call if [[:Kordönül]] and his cronies chose to attack.
At this point, the hidden envoy of Lord Tabak interrupted the farcical display. Lambach Ruthven was in no mood to see a mortal, no matter how old or influential, lord himself over Cainites. He left his place in the gallery overlooking the throne room, and brusquely dismissed the ghoul with a demeaning insult.
“Run along, little lord. The adults need to speak.”
The point was well made, and taken by all. Despite quite possibly being the oldest creature in the room, Conte Razvan was not, and would never, be the equal of a Cainite, no matter how young the vampire happened to be.
The old ghoul left the throne room, chagrined and embarrassed at being put in his place. He would avoid the visitors for the remainder of their stay, choosing instead to allow his proxies to treat with them. Notable among them was his son, Costin. Now restored to a position of authority after many years of servile, demeaning work, the marshal of Argeș was quick to seek to ingratiate himself with the members of the Ashen Band. He seemed particularly interested in earning the favour of Ulrich von Wettin, who was clearly a vampire noble of some import. Other notables included Costin’s own son, Mircea, who stood in his place as Lord Razvan’s heir. The younger man seemed very much the protege of his grandfather, ready to seek out alliances and advantage wherever and however both might arrive.
No matter what the fates have in store for the wily and treacherous Razvan, it would seem that his legacy will continue. So long as their vampiric masters allow it, the descendants of Lord Basarab may well dictate the destiny of the people of Oltenia for centuries to come.