Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
The Narsene Lasombra
(modified from Constantinople by Night, pp. 79-80)
Ever since the fall of Rome to Odoacer’s barbarian hordes, the Cainites of Constantinople have harshly judged their cousins in the West. Byzantines see these Latins – as opposed to Byzantine Greeks – as uncivilised, upstart children who do not recognise their place. The Latins have responded in kind, considering Constantinople’s locals to be pompous, self-inflated, effete fools. As the tide of Mediterranean trade has shifted from Constantinople to Venice and other Latin ports, tensions between East and West have risen; the proud Byzantines have increasingly been forced to turn to Venetians and their Lasombra overlords’ economic and political support.
This transition of power has played right into the hands of Prince Narses, Archbishop of Nod and an ancient subject of the Byzantine mortal and Undead courts. He has helped create enclaves of power in Constantinople, free from the Trinity’s control, and has aided the efforts of Venetian mortals to seize control of the city’s trade. Ever since the Eighth Council in AD 1185, the Narsene Lasombra have all but created a city within a city. The Latin Quarter is a catch all term for the Venetian, Pisan, Amalfitan and Genoese districts, all of which are crammed together along the port berths of the Golden Horn. Narses’ childe Bishop Alfonzo now reigns as Overlord of the Venetian, Amalfitan and Pisan districts, while the Genoese Cainites barely ward off his designs.
The Narsene Lasombra, while now independent of the Trinity system, was originally formed in the late 6th century as a provincial Scion family of the Antonians. Even then, as a neonate, Narses’ submission was snide and calculating, as he surmised that loyalty given freely to the Antonians would strip them of the excuse to replace him. Not even a century later, Narses, feeling quite secure in his power, broke with Constantinople once it was clear that the Justinian age was over. He sent his ‘regretful apologies’ to Antonius the Gaul that “until such time as the Antonians could extend their protective grasp to the West once more, the Narsene Lasombra would be forced to forge their own destiny”.
Narses attached himself to the burgeoning Cainite Heresy quickly after his Embrace, and the destiny of the Narsene Lasombra has long been closely intertwined with that of the Crimson Curia. The power of Venice has grown throughout the ports of the Mediterranean, and numerous of Narses’ progeny and dozens of agents now do his bidding in Venetian merchant quarters from Alexandria, Limasol, Jerusalem, Acre, Tyre, Beirut, Antioch, Athens, Corinth, Crete, Ancona, Durazzo, Naples, Marseilles, Thessalonica and, of course, Constantinople herself. And wherever they can be found, the Heresy has dug deep roots indeed.
Such has the mercantile and naval power of Venice grown that La Serenissima is now the pre-eminent and wealthiest city in the Mediterranean. Constantinople’s power, on the other hand, has reached a dangerous nadir. The Seventh Byzantine Council of AD 1081 brought with it an invitation from Basileus Caius, Antonius’ murderer and successor, for the re-entry of the Narsene Lasombra back into the fold of the Dream not just as an obscure provincial family, but as a full partner in the system. Prince Narses’ delight with the offer was, for once, ill-disguised, and he accepted.
Narses sent his favoured childe, Bishop Elizio, to take charge of the Venetian district. A masterful trader and intriguer, Elizio worked within the bounds of the Codex of Legacies to make the Narsene Lasombra indispensable to the Trinity. He poured all of his time and energy into revitalising trade in the eastern Mediterranean, but with Venice, not Constantinople as the keystone to progress. Over the following century, the mercantile power of the Narsene Lasombra grew in Constantinople, often at the expense of that of the Antonian Ventrue. Their success did not go unnoticed, nor unlamented.
The persecution of Venetians across the empire in AD 1171, the riots in AD 1182 and especially the massacre in the Latin Quarter of AD 1185, are said to have been caused by Byzantine vampires resentful of Venetian success. On the last occasion, the ensuing massacre was indiscriminate: neither women nor children were spared, and Latin patients lying in hospital beds were murdered. Houses, churches, and charitable institutions were looted. Latin clergymen received special attention, and Cardinal John, the papal legate, was beheaded and his head was dragged through the streets at the tail of a dog. All of the Latin vampires in the city, save Bishop Gabriella of the Genose Quarter (who threw herself on the mercy of Lord Symeon), were slain in the violence, including Bishop Elizio.
Narses demanded justice and compensation. With massive debts to Venice still waiting to be repaid, Caius acquiesced to Narses’ demands. Investigations bore out the culpability of Tribonius, Autokrator of the Lexor Brujah, and Epirus, Domestic Prefect of the Antonian Ventrue. Both were executed for their roles in fostering and directing the violence, and a wedge was driven between the Antonian and Lexor families. Furthermore, the Latin Quarter was now to be autonomous, and the Narsene Lasombra were given strict oversight of it. It would be a city within a city, outside of the purview of the Codex of Legacies.
Bishop Alfonzo, another of Narses’ elder progeny, soon arrived to take possession of the Venetian district. While not as skilled a merchant as Elizio, Bishop Alfonzo surpasses his late brother-in-blood in treachery, and in the score of years afterwards, he was heavily engaged in bringing to heel the masters of the Pisan, Amalfitan and Genoese districts. Only Bishop Gabriella proved to be his equal in matters of intrigue, and to this night (even with her apparent demise late in AD 1197), her supporters resist his claims for dominion over him.
Regardless, Bishop Alfonzo has thrown the gates of the Latin Quarter wide to any and all who would take shelter there. More than 60 000 Latins make their homes in “his” quarter, more than any settlement in Europe save a few. More than enough blood and silver to go around, he claims, and all are welcome. All they need do is accept his claim that he rule as “overlord” over them, and consent to owing him a small boon for the privilege of existing underneath the aegis of the Narsene Lasombra. Thus, even those not formally aligned with them still nominally owe his family, and him personally, their support.
The Byzantines rail at the numbers of Latins, which now exceeds their own, but the Narsene Lasombra snidely refer to the dictates of the Eighth Council in return. “The Latin Quarter,” they say, “is Latin. Not Byzantine. Mind your own affairs, or eat the dust that you have wrought…”
Bishop Alfonzo’s hierarchy is loose, and based on two factors: usefulness and entertainment. At the top of the hierarchy are his seneschal, Marko, and chief scourge, Gregorio. These ancillae constantly vie for his favour, but work well otherwise to advance his interests. Beneath them are numerous courtiers, merchants and thugs with proportionally smaller pieces of the Narsene pie based on how how much their master likes them and how useful they have managed to become. Bishop Alfonzo reserves the right to readily remove Domain from any one (including Marko and Gregorio) and bestow it someone else. In the past, Adrianna and Juliano both surpassed their older brothers-in-blood in this way, and they will fight fang and claw to see that it does not happen again.
Beneath the actual Narsene Lasombra are the various Latins of other clans (or even the clanless) who have entered into the service of the Bishop for one reason or another. Paradoxically, these Cainites are actually in a much more stable position, for their employment and status is assured in their lesser position (provided they don’t back the wrong intrigue of one of the Lasombra). They are not, however, actual members of the Narsene Lasombra, and will be covered in the Independent Latins section.
A ROSTER OF NARSENE LASOMBRA COMMONLY FOUND IN CONSTANTINOPLE
- Alfonzo di Venezia, Bishop of the Venetian sector and Overlord of the Latin Quarter (7th gen. Childe of Narses, e. late 9th century CE)
- Marko d’Este, Seneschal of the Latin Quarter (8th gen. Childe of Alfonzo, e. early 12th century CE)
- Gregorio di Venezia, Flagello Principale of the Latin Quarter (8th gen. Childe of Alfonzo, e. early 12th century CE)
- Doriano di Venezia, merchant (8th gen. Childe of Alfonzo, e. mid 12th century CE)
- Faustina Soranzo, courtier (8th gen. Childe of Alfonzo, e. late 12th century CE)
- Alessio Valiero, enforcer and duelist (8th gen. Childe of Alfonzo, e. late 12th century)
- Euginia Ziani, Alfonzo’s plaything (8th gen. Childe of Alfonzo, e. late 12th century)
- Evaldo Polani, Narsene merchant (9th gen. Childe of Marko d’Este, e. late 12th century)
- Ricardo di Venezia, Narsene thug (9th gen. Childe of Gregorio, e. late 12th century)
- As many as 5 other Narsene Lasombra can be found visiting Constantinople at any one time, either passing through on business, or engaging in the dark pleasures for which Bishop Alfonzo has earned infamy these past years. It goes without saying that every one of them is spying on the Bishop for Narses.
- As many as thirty other Latin vampires (either Clanless or those with clans but of weak generation or desperate straits) are either in the direct employ of Bishop Alfonzo or else find themselves under his thumb in the Venetian Quarter. Any or all of them can be called upon on short notice to bolster his manpower. In addition to these formidable numbers, perhaps two dozen more vampires in the Amlafitan and Pisan Quarters owe a measure of loyalty to the Bishop, and could conceivably fall into line if he demanded their support.
After securing his power in the Venetian sector, Alfonzo threw the gates wide to any and all Cainites who would live in his power. This seems to have been a calculated move to induce chaos in a city already weakened by the in-fighting of the Trinity family Cainites, the dissolution of the Comneni dynasty, and the ineptitude of their successors, the Angeli. There are now more Cainites crammed into the Latin Quarter than the rest of the city combined, and they are itching to expand their power bases. The Baron’s Gangrel have responded by becoming ever more draconian in their appointed task to patrol the borders, and tensions are rising.
The price of this gambit has not been an easy one for the Bishop. His beloved and favoured childer, Adrianna and Juliano, were murdered in AD 1196 by the Chosen of Calomena. While justice was done on those who were directly responsible, Alfonzo cannot escape the truth that it was he, personally, that granted them access to the city in the 1180’s. Despite the public execution of their prophet, Stanislav, the Chosen have only grown in power, and reports continue to trickle in that the propet of Calomena yet exists.
In addition, an assassin stalked both the Latin Quarter and the Greek districts for several years, and was responsible for the destruction of the masters of each of the Pisan, Amalfitan and Genoan sectors. The assassin has since disappeared, with none the wiser as to their identity. While the murders ultimately worked to his own advantage, it was only through sheer chance that Alfonzo survived an attempt on his own Unlife in AD 1198, and he has grown intensely paranoid about security. Ever the opportunist, Markus Musa Giovanni was happy to offer the assistance of his death magic and ghostly servants, but not without cost. With the loss of the master’s of the other three sectors, the power of the Narsene Lasombra grows ever more secure, but the power of the Giovanni now waxes alongside it as well.
Even so, the vampires of the Amalfitan and Pisan districts fear Alfonzo enough that they do what they are told. The Genoese, however, retain the ill disposition that was formerly held by their master, Bishop Gabriella, and they have thus far succeeded in staving off Venetian overlordship. So far, Alfonzo has been unable to finish them, and he now wonders if perhaps they have found a new patron to protect them.
Relations with the Children of Judas, who once gleefully welcomed him to the city, continue to worsen. Several key Settite pawns have been slain since AD 1197, and while the short term benefit is that Alfonzo’s own pawns gain power, he laments the loss of support from the one Greek family that supported him. While there have not yet been any reprisals from the Children of Judas, the Bishop is forced to expend much of his attention in protection of his own assets just in case they decide to do so. He suspects that someone has driven a wedge between them according to some hidden design, and would love to discover who so that he might revenge himself.
RELATIONS WITH OTHER GROUPS
Most vampires outside the Latin Quarter view the Narsene Lasombra as the worst of the worst. While the Carrion and other Latins are considered with disdain or thinly veiled hatred, it is the Narsene Lasombra that brought them to the Queen of Cities in the first place. Only the Children of Judas were on friendly terms with the Narsene Lasombra, for the excesses of the Venetians indirectly aided them in their own mandate. Recent tensions over a number of murders involving key Settite pawns in the Latin Quarter have soured their formerly amicable relations, and in a strange twist of fate for a man so guilty of much, Alfonzo’s (probably true) protestions of innocence on the matter have fallen on deaf ears. Khay’tall, in a rare show of solidarity with his fellow family leaders, now despises the Bishop along with the rest of the Byzantines.
RELATIONS WITH OUTSIDERS
The Latin Quarter is open and ready to receive and and all newcomers to the city. A coterie of Western European Cainites could easily (and has easily) find a home amid the squalor and wealthy traders of the sector. Bishop Alfonzo does his best to keep an eye on the newcomers, but he encourages them to pursue any and all destructive and enjoyable past times, especially if they come at the expense of the Byzantines. He invites everyone in his Quarter to his blood feasts, and most of them do attend, whether out of sybaritic tendencies or merely to keep an eye on each other.
Bishop Alfonzo is actually quite popular amongst the Latins. He has personally welcomed all of them (albeit for a small prestation debt), granted most of them some sort of Domain (again, for just a small favour), and makes sure that his men watch over it to keep it safe (ditto, and most of them recognise it for the extortion that it clearly is). Still, most of them would admit that in his place, they would be doing exactly the same thing. Any resentment they feel is tempered by this knowledge, as well as the generous blood feasts that Bishop Alfonzo throws each month.
Bishop Alfonzo rules his servants with an iron fist, and accepts no orders from anyone save his own sire in Venice. Few of his childer could be determined incompetent, but most have seen less than thirty years under the Blood. Since the destruction of Alfonzo’s favourites, Adrianna and Juliano, only Marko d’Este and gregorio can be considered ancillae in their own rights. The former is Alfonzo’s seneschal and a master of trade; he oversees the family’s accounts and legitimate business dealings. The latter is the bishop’s Flagello Principale (Chief Scourge), and in addition to leading his master’s brute squads of Latin Cainites and ghouls, he oversees the illegitimate dealings of the family. Cross-over between their spheres is not uncommon, and despite their rivalry they have been known to work together efficiently at such times. They have both lost their positions in the past due to uncreative, obvious plots against each other, and they now know better than to think they can fool their sire.
Either of them could be considered Bishop Alfonzo’s second, depending upon the fickle favour of their master, and both are hungry for more power and responsibility. The rest of Alfonzo’s progeny stand in an ever changing hierarchy beneath Marko and gregorio, ever ready to move up at the expense of their brothers and sisters in blood.
Like the Narsene Lasombra anywhere else that Venice holds sway, the locals are jealous of their power. While they readily bend the knee to the principle that the Archbishop of Nod, Prince Narses, is their overlord and master, they don’t feel comfortable at all with any degree of oversight from Venice. They are Lasombra, after all. Shedding light on their dealings make them uncomfortable…