Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Simon von Nijmegen
The late archdeacon of Kronstadt; a wealthy and charming cleric, he garnered much influence on the city council. Unknown to the citizenry at large, however, he also led a cadre of vampire hunters until his assassination by the Ashen Band.
The archdeacon was a handsome, middle-aged, aristocratic cleric with a penchant for wearing lavish black robes that seemed reminiscent of the Benedictine Order but for the silver thread woven through the hems. A sizeable silver cross, studded with rubies, hung from a fine silver chain about his neck. He was an angular man, tall and erect, who carried himself with the arrogance of one who had always been obeyed. His chestnut hair was running to silver at temples and crown, and his brown eyes were so dark as to appear almost black.
A Klevelander by birth, the archdeacon of Kronstadt arrived in the city in AD 1201, and in the years after he became a vital cog in the political machine of the city. His rise to power was gradual, predicated on his ability to alacritously place the clergy of the burgraviate under his thumb, followed by his proficiency at playing the mayoral and aristocratic factions off against each other in the city council. His skill at such matters made him a power-broker in the burgraviate within the course of his first decade of residence, and his enthusiastic approval of the king’s bequeathal of the Burzenland to the Teutonic Order ensured his power throughout the intervening years of his second. By the time of his untimely death in the Cuman War, he stood as a viable power bloc in his own right, under the auspices of the favour of the Military Order.
The archdeacon presented as an odd site for a clergyman, being an obvious lover of the finer things in life. His robes were always of impeccable quality, the bejewelled crucifix he wore could likely purchase a sizeable house, and on the rare occasion he was seen girded for war, his armour and arms were of nonpareil excellence, well beyond anything even a master craftsman of Kronstadt could produce. He chose only the finest food and wine for his table, though it had been observed that he ate and drank but little. On the odd occasion he might frequent one of the city’s finer inns or taverns in order to meet with guildsmen or nobles, but his known preference was to dine with others either at their houses or his own. The archdeacon’s manse was a grand, walled affair not far from the church, rectory, and orphanage of St. Emeric. In addition to a large, two storey house, his home had enough room for a private chapel, a sizeable barracks for his guard, a stable, and enough grazing room for a good number of horses and sheep as well as no few cows.
His personal guard consisted of some thirty men in all, recruited from among the devout youth of the city. Identified by their simple dark grey tabbards bearing a white cross over the breast, each man was clad in mail and armed with a sword, dagger, and club. Their leader, Brandt, a battle-hardened officer who appeared to be an old friend of Simon, gradually whipped the men into shape over the course of a decade of diligent training, and they acquitted themselves well in a number of engagements with the Cumans. In addition to these worthies, Simon took the unusual step of retaining another fifty mercenaries from the land of Frisia, necessitating a further expansion to the barracks. Commanded by an affable, battle-scarred veteran known as Rikus van Drachten, they were veterans of a number of wars, and were medium and heavy cavalry for the most part. They wore no insignia, but were noted for wearing an intertwined blue and red cord around their upper left arms.
It was widely known in the Burzenland that in addition to his local connections, Archdeacon Simon had a number of potent political connections in the Low Countries and the Holy Roman Imperial Court. His older brother, Adaem III, was the Slotvoogd (castellan) of Nijmegen, and a valued friend of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II. The family is wealthy indeed, owning a number of lucrative estates around Nijmegen, Kleve, Rees, and Noordwijk. They are also numerous, with no fewer than nine surviving siblings in the immediate family, but of them all, it was Adaem and Simon who were the most notable of their generation.
Their parents were Dametta van Leuven (daughter of Godfrey II, Count of Leuven, Landgrave of Brabant) and Adaem II Slotvoogd von Nijmegen and their grandparents were Ludmilla von Vellberg (an illegitimate daughter of Conrad III, “King of the Romans”, and Gerberga, his mistress) and Adaem Slotvoogd van Nijmegen. As such, Archdeacon Simon was the third cousin of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and Duke Henry II of Brabant, and related more loosely to the dukes of Limberg, the dukes of Lower Lotharingia, the dukes of Swabia, the margraves of Antwerp, the counts of Loon, the counts of Sulzbach, and other branches of the House of Hohenstafen, the House of Salian, the House of Rurik, and the House of Comnenus. In the small pond that is Kronstadt his immense, if informal, rank always made him more than equal to the prestige of Burgrave Albert Rutan, and the two men were never friendly as a result.
The reputation of the archdeacon was almost puritanical, but he is known to have been both charitable and kind. Indeed, the bürgers of the city still hold him up as a an example of virtue, many years after his passing. He funded the orphanage at St. Emeric out of his own pocket, and made numerous donations to the village parishes sp that there was adequate stores when winters were particularly harsh, as well as ensuring that the churches were securely built of stone. Although he rarely took the pulpit at St. Emeric’s, when he did he tended to sermonise about the need for the Siebenburgers to hold themselves to a higher standard than their fellows in the West, for the responsibility for bringing the light of Christianity to the Pagan East rested entirely upon their shoulders. He also preached brotherhood and tolerance for the Vlachs, the Magyars, the Szeklers, the Bulgars, and the Greeks, for all came to the Cross of the Lord and the Song of the Heavenly Hosts, even if some lost their way and fell from the true Latin rite.
Simon even preached about the need to be forgiving of the ways of Saracens and Jews, for they too accept the truth of the One God, even if their “understanding is poor.” Only the Cumans appeared to be outside his forgiveness, for surely the blasphemous perfidy and needless brutality of their raids were proof that they were servants of the Devil. The Teutons appeared to be uncomfortable with his uncommon tolerance of foreign peoples and religions, but they also recognised that the archdeacon was a powerful advocate for their own role in the city.
Simon was tight-lipped regarding the reasons for his appointment to the city of Kronstadt, but he was loquacious enough concerning his youth and his duties in Rome. It is common knowledge that he was born and spent most of his early years in the city of Nijmegen, although he preferred his family estate in the smaller town of Noordwijk, a well-known pilgrimage site dedicated to the famed Saint Jeroen. In later years, his family connections allowed him access to the best education available, for he was a graduate of the University of Bologna, and his studies took him even further still. Simon was ordained under the supervision of the late, venerable Cardinal Melior, who at the time served the pontiff as Camerlango of the Holy Roman Church. Melior was also cardinal-priest of the ancient Basilica of Saints John and Paul on the Caelian Hill, and as his deacon, the faithful young priest was responsible for its upkeep. He was known to speak glowingly, wistfully, of the cardinal’s choir, and he sought to emulate their grace by forming a choral at St. Emeric’s, the core of which was made of the orphans in his care.
As an assistant to the cardinal, and stationed in one of the oldest churches of Christendom, it would appear that Simon, at least at one time, was on the fast track to a great career in the church. It is all the more curious, then, that he was given an unlikely assignment to the edge of civilisation, and no few bürgers have gossipped about it over the years.
Whatever the case for his arrival in Kronstadt, the archdeacon quickly set to putting the affairs of the local parishes in order. He is thought to have clashed a great deal with the older Father Samuel in the early years, but the creation of the orphanage that they jointly ran appeared to settle whatever bad blood once stood between them. They took pains to see that all of the young orphans, boys and girls alike, were given a trade as well as an education in the seven liberal arts. Simon also sought to organise the local parishes more effectively, ensuring that the woeful literacy of many of the village priests was rectified, and that they communicated with his office at regular intervals. This organisation suffered after the Cuman attacks began, but it was still enviable by Transylvanian standards, particularly in the western and northern villages of the Burzenland. After his demise, this network gradually atrophied even further despite the attentions of his successor.
In AD 1214, another purpose for the aforementioned orphanage became known to the vampires of Kronstadt. While hunting among the camp followers of Commander Theoderich’s expeditionary army, the Ventrue Ulrich von Wettin was hunted and staked by a young tailor named Valentinus. The clever fellow appeared to excel at feigning drunkeness in company with the other camp followers, and his act took in the hungry Ventrue. If not for the attentiveness of his retainers, the quick action of his coterie-mates, and the mortal hunter’s general ignorance of true Cainite nature, Sir Ulrich would likely have wound up suffering the Final Death. Worse yet, he may have fallen into the righteous clutches of Valentinus’ master — none other than Archdeacon Simon von Nijmegen.
Even though he was rescued before such a fate could come to pass, the breach of the Sixth Tradition would have cost a vampire of lesser pedigree his existence. However, the childe of Hardestadt the Younger was instead shown mercy by his consanguineous uncle, Jürgen von Verden, and charged with “dealing with the archdeacon problem” by means of making amends.
In the months after the unfortunate encounter, the investigations of the Ashen Band yielded the knowledge that Simon’s orphanage would appear to have been a training ground for raising and training devout hunters. The archdeacon and his hunters used for a manual a pamplet written by one Karl von Shrekt. Moreover, the hooks of his private congregation, such as it was, were sunk very deeply indeed into numerous guilds, among a number of edlers, and most alarmingly of all, the City Guard. The task of the coterie was made no easier by the return of the archdeacon, his guard, and his hired Frisian mercenaries to Kronstadt. Apparently Commander Theoderich had managed to convince the archdeacon that his men would be of more use defending the city itself, and the man of God had humbly acquiesced to the wishes of the famed Teutonic captain. Luckily, ignorance also worked in their favour, for the hunters did not yet realise that more than one vampire laired in the city.
The Ashen Band continued to seek ways to neutralise Simon and his followers. Retainers and herd members began to infiltrate the wide social circles in which the archdeacon moved, with an eye towards gaining access to the masses he held in his private chapel. Rumours were seeded within the city that led the archdeacon into surmising that the “vampire of Kronstadt” yet survived, and he had been spotted in at Buzău, a land known to be plagued by many godless horrors in addition to the Cuman threat. With the promise of striking a blow against the monsters that haunt the Transylvanian night, mayhap the archdeacon and his warriors might be lured far from the city, into lands where dangers abound? And perhaps, just perhaps, an arrow of Cuman manufacture might find its way into the back of this troublesome cleric there…
Knowing full well that the archdeacon was extremely difficult to Dominate by even the most capable of the Sword-bearer’s servants, and understanding that they were already on extremely thin ice with Lord Jürgen owing to the Argeș Fiasco, the Ashen Band reluctantly agreed to the assassination plan. Of them all only Sága vociferously refused to take part, and she railed against the lack of justice in their decision. They countered that they were bound by the laws of the Traditions, and it was either Simon or they that would meet their maker. The Nosferatu subsided in her arguments, but refused to take part in the plan to murder the archdeacon.
Further rumours were seeded in order to contrive the attitude among the bürgers of Kronstadt that they had the opportunity to deal a blow to the forces of the Devil Kordönül by breaking the siege of the castle at Buzău and creating a flood of refugees from among the khan’s weaker vassals. In short order, a chevauchée was organised to do just that, and the archdeacon and his followers naturally elected to join the forces of the burgrave so that they could hunt down this “vampire of Kronstadt.” The raid infiltrated the territory of the enemy by using the difficult Buzău Pass, and the Bursenlanders then began hunting the Cumans from behind their own lines. The Ashen Band followed the progress of Simon and his followers on the subsequent march, and when the surprise attack on the army besieging the castle was launched, Marius stalked Simon. The Lasombra archer loosed a poisoned arrow and it struck true, lodged in the throat of the archdeacon.
As he fell from his horse, Captain Brandt and his bodyguard closed about the fallen priest, but Marius was able to watch from afar as Simon began convulsing, then choking on his own blood. As his chirurgeon valiantly attempted to save his life, his men carried him into a ruined cottage close by the banks of the Buzău while Brandt expertly established a cordon to prevent any Cumans from approaching. Marius tried to confirm his kill but could not get close enough to do so before he felt the approach of dawn and he was forced to seek shelter.
With the arrival of dusk, efforts by the Ashen Band to see Simon’s corpse were also stymied by his watchful guard, but the mournful air that hung about his camp seemed confirmation enough. A solemn announcement was made by Burgrave Albert that night that Archdeacon Simon had clung to life until shortly after sundown. Rumour had it that in the end he drowned in his own blood. His grieving men carried his mortal remains back to Kronstadt and laid them to rest in the cemetary attached to the Church of St. Emeric.
Within weeks, Captain Brandt and much of the late archdeacon’s bodyguard had quit the city to return to Germany, while Rikus van Drachten and his mercenaries sought employment with the Teutonic Order instead. They would soon relocate to Cumania on a semi-permanent basis. The remaining two of Simon’s carefully trained senior vampire hunters also left the Burzenland with Brandt. In short order, only Father Samuel and less than half of Simon’s dissolved bodyguard remained to carry the torch of the Truly Faithful in Kronstadt.