Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Alfonzo of Venice
This Lasombra elder has been Prince of Constantinople since 1206. Prior to that, he was overlord of the Latin Quarter and a bishop of the Cainite Heresy.
A Venetian merchant prince, judging by his fine features, plentiful jewellery, and wealthy, sophisticated dress. He is middle-aged, gaunt and pale, with dark eyes, slightly receding black hair, and a casual air, possessed of a placid, controlled expression. He is unarmed.
Prince Alfonzo of Constantinople is a walking contradiction. He cultivates a reputation as a gracious and urbane host but in the past he was known to be tyrannical in his control of the Latin Quarter, and his initial generosity after taking the throne of the wider city has long since run thin. He maintains a strict facade of self-control but has a sybaritic reputation. For centuries he claimed to be a loyal priest of the Cainite Heresy, but seemed to spend most of his time overseeing mercantile projects and pursuing self-gratification rather than piety. Prince Alfonzo has been a fixture in the Latin Quarter only since AD 1185, and the preeminent Cainite of the city since 1206, but the roots of his power go much, much deeper.
The Narsene Lasombra were created in the early 7th century, with the arrival of the Lasombra neonate, Narses, in Constantinople. A former palace eunuch and abandoned mortal pawn of the Antonian Ventrue, Narses appeared before the Trinity Quaesitors and claimed rulership of the Byzantine dominion of Venice. Granted provincial Scion family status but in truth autonomous from Trinity control, Narses brilliantly manoeuvred his city into becoming the preeminent trading city of the Mediterranean. After the Seventh Trinity Council of AD 1081, the Narsene Lasombra also managed to claim Scion family status within the capital itself, thus gaining a measure of autonomy within the city.
The Italian merchants (including Pisans, Amalfitans and the Genoese as well as the Venetians) consistently out-manoeuvred and out-politicked their Byzantine counterparts ever after; the best ports in Constantinople became theirs and trade concessions mercilessly favoured their clients. Even the Byzantine navy eventually withered to a shadow of its former strength, forcing the Romaioi to rely increasingly on Latin power for protection. As a result, much of the wealth of Constantinople poured into Venetian coffers.
Resentment over this state of affairs, coupled with dynastic strife and destabilisation caused by a Norman invasion of the western provinces, boiled over into the Latin Riots of AD 1182, which culminated in the rapine, robbery, slaughter, or flight of nearly sixty thousand Italians within the city. Most of the Latin Cainites, including Alfonzo’s brother-in-blood Bishop Elizio, were slain by Byzantine rivals in the confusion, and the Narsene Lasombra cried out for justice and compensation. After nearly three more years of trouble and declining fortunes for the empire, it was given in the Eighth Council of AD 1185. Narses was victorious, and exacted typically extortionate terms for the Latins in general, and Venice in particular. The Latin Quarter was now to be autonomous, and the Narsene Lasombra were given strict overlordship of it. It would be a city within a city, outside of the purview of the Codex of Legacies.
Bishop Alfonzo arrived soon after to take control.
He threw the gates wide to any and all Cainites who wished to make their homes in the Latin Quarter. All they needed do was recognise his overlordship of all districts within it and to accept a minor boon for the privilege of existing within them. As a result, the Latin Quarter became drastically overpopulated with Cainites, far too many for anyone to keep tabs on all of them. The bishop enjoyed his elevated station from all of the prestation that he garnered, and he exulted too in the chaos and hardship it forced upon the Cainites of the Trinity system.
Alas, Alfonzo’s policies finally backfired on him in AD 1196 when his two favourite childer, Juliano and Adrianna, were assassinated in his own haven by a cult of vampire-hunters now known to be the Children of Calomena. The bishop spared no expense in securing justice for the crime and the insult. A coterie was assembled for the task, consisting of Conrad de Monreal, Veceslav Basarab, Gunther von St. Wolfgang and Iulia of Adrianople. Over the ensuing nights and weeks, this coterie succeeded in their task, although their methods are known to have displeased the bishop. Despite his dissatisfaction, Alfonzo and the Narsene Lasombra acknowledged a boon to all Cainites involved in the investigation as well as to their sires.
Alfonzo and his cronies continued to strengthen their hold on the Latin Quarter in the following years, and their power could be felt in nearly all parts of the city. He was assisted in his mercantile ventures by his childe Marko, and in more brutish matters by his other remaining favourite, Gregorio. His other progeny in the city included the brash Alessio, flighty Faustina, pretty Euginia and the quietly competent Doriano. Other Narsene Lasombra visitors to the city were quite common, and tended to stay in Bishop Alfonzo’s walled compound.
So strong had the prestige and prestation of Alfonzo grown that when the 4th Crusade arrived in 1203, he was seen as a natural choice for primary instigator of the crisis. Indeed, while it was true that the Venetian elder had openly harboured designs on greater power, even he seemed worried after the first siege ended in a qualified victory for the crusaders.
Over the balance of the year, he appeared to work behind the scenes to actually calm tempers and soothe bruised egos, and he displayed (token) interest in assisting his Romaioi rivals to raise the coin necessary to buy off the impoverished and increasingly desperate Latin invaders. Any pretense of generosity on his part evaporated, however, when a fire (lit, it would later emerge, by drunken Franks) heavily damaged the Latin Quarter, and a riot broke out which resulted in the brutalisation of his countrymen by surrounding Greeks. Many of the mortal Italians fled the city, only to swear revenge and join their countrymen already encamped with the crusade. For his part, Alfonzo refused to leave; he instead fortified his manse and hired extra men to guard it and patrol the quarter.
Ultimately, hostilities were renewed and to the surprise of many, Constantinople fell. Like everyone else within the walls Alfonzo and his coterie were a potential target when the walls were breached, but in typical style he merely hoisted the banners of Venice high to protect his property, then made a play for power in a city under sack.
Vicious rumour has it that he sent his progeny Gregorio di Venezia and Marko D’Este to the gladiator quarters under the Hippodrome, intending to mass embrace the slaves in order to use their hatred of the Trinity Families to destroy his rivals. While never proven, the strategy of so blatantly ignoring the Silence of the Blood by throwing a horde of ravenous fledgelings at his enemies is still discussed by the high and low, always in whispers with a note of quiet and fascinated horror. In any case, if the tale is true Marko and Gregorio evidently failed in this endeavour, for they did not return, most of the slaves were found dead, and the others fled the city. In the coming nights, Alfonzo readily made common cause with fellow Venetians accompanying the crusade, and also offered sanctuary to those vampires willing to pay the heavy prestation for taking shelter in his mansion. More than a few Amalfitans, Pisans, and other Latins in the quarter agreed.
In the wake of the destruction of the old order, the Latin Empire of Constantinople was raised up in its place. Now in possession of a much more significant bank of prestation to call upon, Bishop Alfonzo immediately began manoeuvring to place himself on the throne. However, he was just one of many potential potentates with an ambition to do so, and he moved his pieces carefully as the city returned to a semblance of peace and order over the following months and years.
Initial attempts were made by the Templar, Hugh de Clairvaux, to reorganise the dissolving crusaders and move them on to Egypt as originally planned, but the kingly Ventrue was assassinated by an agent of the Assamites in July of 1204. Afterwards, some among the Cainite Crusade took their looted wealth and returned home, while a good number were either too ashamed to do so, or else took advantage of their established connections among the new Latin-Frankish elite to establish a measure of dominion over the new imperial nobility. Chief among these Cainites were his rival Gabriella of Genoa, Lanzo von Sachsen of the German contingents of the crusade, Sir Martin of Toulon of the Provencal elements, Sir Vitalis of Asti of the Champagnois, and Carmine Giovanni of the Venetians. This last figure would quickly enter into alliance with Bishop Alfonzo, the better to protect himself from vengeful Greeks who knew of his part in the destruction and looting of the Monastery of St. John Studius.
Among the Romaioi, Nicepherus weathered the fracturing of the Antonians with stronger numbers than his rival, Anna Comnena, and he and Alfonzo appeared to establish something of a non-aggression pact quite early on. The Obertus had quit the city altogether it seemed, and their Scions, the Baron’s Gangrel broke up along with the sanity and good sense of their leader. The Malachite Nosferatu slipped into the shadows, and the Michaelites who remained were too stunned by the loss of the Patriarch to manage ought but disconsolate seclusion or a retreat into torpor. Others of the old Family system either fled immediately in the wake of the sack, or struggled to find their place in the near-anarchy of the times that followed
One who consistently moved against the bishop was Gabriella of Genoa, who had quickly recovered from the loss of the Genoese district in the Great Fire of 1203. By assisting her countrymen in gaining the opposite suburb of Galata for their exclusive use as a new Genoese quarter, she was able to gain some breathing space from her overbearing Venetian rival, and she too set about making her own bid for the princedom. Gabriella and her coterie immediately began agitating throughout the Latin Quarter, and seeking to place their own pawns in the Blachernae Palace in competition with the bishop’s own newly placed people.
The dance of intrigue between the two Italian potentates thrust them both into lead contention, as it quickly became clear that the Franks had chosen instead to vest their efforts in the new emperor, Baldwin or else his rival, the newly crowned King Boniface of Thessalonica, both of whom were immediately embroiled in war with the Empire of Bulgaria, the Empire of Nicaea, and the Despotate of Epirus. This necessitated the attention of the newcomers being placed elsewhere, and they squandered whatever opportunity they may have had to affect an outcome in their favour. The likes of Nicepherus and Sarah the Chaste were another matter; lacking the support to declare for themselves, they each chose instead to play the two Italian Lasombra off against each other in order to win future concessions.
Ultimately, it was Alfonzo who was victorious. Discerning a threat from his sire over the assassination of his Roman lover, Isadora, he cast aside his loyalty to the Narsene Lasombra and the Cainite Heresy altogether. He would instead became a vassal of Ambrosio Luis Moncada and, through him, Sylvester de Ruiz of the Shadow Reconquista , making Alfonzo a powerful player in the easterly courts of the Sea of Shadows. Together with some hasty deals and the large store of prestation owed to him from the Great Sack, he was able to edge out Gabriella and secure Constantinople in the midwinter of AD 1206.
His defection would earn the undying enmity of Narses who, fortunately for Alfonzo, would face condemnation from many quarters for his role in instigating the crusade to attack the Eastern Empire. Defrocked by the Heresy and dethroned by pressure from his rivals, in AD 1215 he would fall to the fangs of another of his childer, Guilelmo Aliprando, who would take his place as prince of Venice. Unfortunately, however, Guilelmo had no interest in allowing bygones to be bygones, and he too seeks vengeance for the insult of Alfonzo’s betrayal against his own bloodline.
In other matters, during the early years of his praxis , Prince Alfonzo sought to broaden his power-base by seeking a place of firm influence in the palace. Indeed, more than once he was heard to voice grand ambitions that he might mimic the power of Antonius the Gaul, and became the shadow ruler of Byzantium, with the emperor as his catspaw. However, the late Baldwin’s successor, his younger brother Henry, was a careful man who surrounded himself with equally watchful and cautious men. Although Alfonzo and his rivals all did their best to do so, there were few opportunities to coopt him by means either mundane or supernal. Of them all, Vitalis was most successful, and then only by influencing the emperor by persuasion and by deed, for the Ventrue ancilla made a point of serving under Henry on his many military campaigns, a risk that Alfonzo and the others were not willing to take. Instead, the prince busied himself Dominating and using the blood oath to suborn military officers and court functionaries, a strategy that has served him well enough.
Regarding Cainite affairs, Alfonzo was initially a generous and forgiving prince. Doubtless his vengeful and bloodthirsty nature was curbed by his incredible good fortune at having won the largest city in the world. Some have also made the observation that Moncada’s ambassador, Lucia d’Aragon, had greatly impressed him with her courtly graces and a seemingly effortless capacity to win the hearts of his subjects with a kind word and an enigmatic smile. Perhaps he sought to emulate her graciousness for a time. Certainly, after her departure in AD 1215 and the reversals that the empire has suffered in the intervening years, he has quickly returned to type. As his power slips, Prince Alfonzo’s tyrannical methods have rebounded with a vengeance.
With the loss of Marko and Gregorio, Alfonzo began casting about for others to do his wetwork, but it was his late lover Isadora who brought him a solution. In 1205 he had made her a gift of two handsome mortal twins, each of whom appeared to enjoy an unusually heightened awareness of the other’s instincts, moods, and even thoughts. She suggested they embrace one of them each to cement their alliance, and he was intrigued enough to agree. Arturo would become Alfonzo’s childe, while his brother Leonid would be brought across by Isadora. After the embrace, they would prove useful, if blunt, instruments, as their unique facility was only enhanced by their transition to undeath, and they discovered within themselves a taste for cruelty and butchery almost the equal of their master. To this night, they lead the prince’s brute squad of Low Clan and Caitiff vampires.
Other progeny also serve capably enough in areas that disinterest their sire-prince. Doriano and Evaldo manage his far-flung trading empire, while Faustina Soranzo is active in the imperial court. Alessio Valiero moves among the city guard and nobility as warden (sheriff), while the less capable Riccardo serves as his second. His diplomat to the other cities of the Latin Empire is his former concubine, Euginia Ziani, while his current plaything, Katrina, is in charge of providing entertainments and diversions during his lavish blood-feasts. And finally, his former ghoul and adopted childe, Matteo (childe of [[:lucita | Lucia d’Aragon), stands as seneschal, adroitly managing the efforts of the others to their sire’s best interest.
Emperor Henry perished, murdered, in 1216. Evil rumour holds that his wife, Maria of Bulgaria, masterminded the plot to poison him, but that the act was carried out by the Lombardic nobleman Count Oberto II of Biandrate, a former regent of Thessalonica who resented the emperor’s interference in his affairs. No proof, or even motive on the part of Maria, could be established, so neither were punished. Whatever the case, Maria took her leave from the Latin Imperial court shortly thereafter, and reportedly vanished on her way to the court of her cousin, Emperor Boril of Bulgaria. The demise of Henry would signal difficult times ahead.
His successor and brother-in-law Peter of Courtenay was captured by the Despot of Epirus on his way to the Latin Empire, leaving his wife Yolanda to govern as his regent. A formidable ruler in her own right, she also appears to enjoy the protection of the same agents who kept her late brother largely free from Cainite manipulations. Even so, the Blachernae Palace is riddled with the agents of Prince Alfonzo and his rivals, and they constantly exert pressure to see their many-varied and contradictory purposes fulfilled.
Vitalis d’Asti desires peace with Nicaea so that his enemies among the Bulgarian Tzimisce might be attacked, while his clan-mate Martin de Toulon works for peace with both Nicaea and Bulgaria so that the very real threat of the resurgent the Lexor Brujah family in Epirus can be dealt with. Nicepherus and his cronies want an alliance with the Bulgarian Tzimisce against both the Epirotes and his enemies in Nicaea, who have banded behind Anna Comnena. And Lanzo von Sachsen agitates for more Holy Roman Imperial ties in the Byzantine Court in order to use its massive resources to stabilise the Latin Empire so that it can mobilised better against the Muslim Infidels. For his part, Alfonzo is actually quite peaceable, desiring nothing more than truces all around and a chance for the city’s trade to finally rebound. Ironically, in this he and his bitter enemy Gabriella are in complete agreement, though they would never consent to work together for the same ends.
As matters stand at the end of the second decade, Alfonzo’s power in the palace is much diminished, but he still enjoys Dominated and bribed pawns among the nobility and the military. As it appears that his rival’s influence at Blachernae is also limited, he has chosen to return to what he knows best — the Latin Quarter. Having mostly recovered from the scars of conquest, the quarter bustles once more, and the prince knows that it is through gold, silver, silk, and spices that the levers of power are moved in Constantinople. Those who enjoyed relative freedom in the years when Alfonzo followed grandiose ambitions to be a shadow ruler of an empire have woken up to a shock.
The master of the Latin Quarter has returned, and their rent is due.
Embrace: AD 895.
Lineage: Childe of Narses (diab.,d), Childe of Galerius (d), Childe of Constantius, Childe of Deinomemes (d), Childe of Childe of Childe of Lasombra
(d)= destroyed; (diab.)= diablerist